More Than a Soothing Smell; What Lavender Plants Teach Us About Growth

Lavender plants are often propagated by root cuttings. Instead of attempting to grow the plant from seed, many gardeners will choose to splice off a portion of the plant’s roots and replant it in new soil. The process is also called root division.

That’s a little how this year feels to me, Little Winnowers. It feels like I am in the process of digging up part of myself and replanting me somewhere else. Do you feel like that too? That process of total, severing change between your past and future life?

I like this metaphor because it’s how I feel on the inside – this drastic shift between who I was and who I am becoming. It’s not like my life has outwardly changed that much. Really. Same city, same job, same family structure. What’s different is how I move through my life. Recently, I have only made effort with friends I value. I have developed new self-care routines. I have delved into the quiet, embracing introversion in a way I never have.

This whole year feels like I’m on retreat – a sort of self-inflicted cloistering. My body is screaming that this is what I need, so I’m trying to listen to it, as scary and unfamiliar as the aloneness is.

When I was in seventh grade, my middle school organized a retreat at small retreat center in rural Wisconsin run by some Catholic nuns. There was truly nothing fancy or modern about the retreat center buildings –  neutral colored dining hall with metal chairs, lots of nondescript shades-of-brown carpet, minimal artwork on the white walls. In fact, the space looked outdated and stuffy. 

But the grounds…oh, the grounds were stunning. They were not stunning in a grand or magnificent or extraordinarily unique way. Objectively, it was nothing more than a few acres of rolling grassland with some dispersed trees throughout it.

What was stunning was the calmness of it all. Under soft overcast skies, the crinkled bark of the deciduous trees seemed stoic and complex. The wind rolled openly, uninhibited by urban buildings, suburban homes, or the whirr of passing traffic. The first few conversations outdoors echoed across the expanse, until they trickled away into silence. Here, on retreat, it was calm.

Though my own introversion was a concept entirely unbeknownst to me at the time, I flourished in the setting, relishing the sound of only the breeze. I remember hearing my thoughts loudly that day. Invigorated and inspired under the blank canvas sky, I began to journal, to draw, to write letters, to compose poetry and songs. In the rapid, unceasing inspiration, my soul lapped up the silence like a dehydrated fawn that stumbled upon a spring creek. My soul whimpered to me – the quiet is what we’ve been missing.

Quiet, I learned, is what my artistic self needs. On that day, I began to understand what it means to retreat, and soon after, what it means to step away transformed.

So this is the dome in which I live right now – this intentional retreat into quietness, into a life so simple and introvert it scares me sometimes. This is foreign soil for me, as I try to sever away the parts of myself I wish to keep, as I transport my newly gleaned self into new soil. I am leaving parts of the old me behind – the mother plant that grew me. Our challenge now is to learn from the lavender – to strip ourselves away from the overgrown host plant of our past lives, to take only what is necessary, and to begin to grow somewhere new.

Photo credit: Dana DeVolk @thissillygirlskitchen

Untangling: Why Dealing with Messy Emotions is the First Step Toward Personal Growth

Have you ever attempt to unravel yarn? It is a Sisyphean task. Every time you make progress unraveling one section, it seems another section has knotted itself up in the process. So you tackle that section…only to have a different section tangle even tighter. And so it continues – untangle, untangle, untangle.

This is life, for we emotional beings. The process of emotional unravelling is necessary, important, frustrating, constant. We are never fully done.

With yarn, we have the luxury of eventually giving up and buying a new skein. But Little Fighter, you cannot do that with your emotions. You cannot buy a new emotional self. It’s not how human beings work. We do not have replaceable parts. Our emotions are always with us, woven throughout every arteries and sinew. We cannot compartmentalize emotions and set them aside in the process of growth. Instead, we must recognize they are integral, the key to personal growth.

You and I know well that emotions, as necessary as they are, are also extremely messy. We need to remember then, why putting in the effort to untangle is necessary. We show up to the untangling process because we are committed to growth, committed to being our best selves. Even when you have a six-figure job, the best Fantasy Football team in the league, stunningly Shellac nails, biceps even Michelle Obama would envy, a cohesive nuclear family, a cozy house, an aesthetic Instagram, a balanced diet, and the cutest Goldendoodle on the planet, you still will not be your best self until you are emotionally intelligent, too.

Emotional growth is not a neat linear path we follow, like the steps up a corporate ladder or the instructional guide on how to assemble your IKEA furniture. Emotional growth can feel like this post’s picture – a messy swirl of back and forth and up and down and new experiences and do-overs.

So, Little Fighter, we are here to honor the excruciating process of unraveling. We honor how innately frustrating, dynamic, turbulent, messy, tear-inducing, trying, and constant it is. We recognize that unraveling is hard. It takes energy to unravel!

And also, we are here to honor the beauty in success – in developing the toolkit to dig through the messy emotions to begin to change our emotional patterns. We honor how rewarding, gratifying, necessary, and freeing the process of emotional unraveling is.

Cultivating emotional strength is a skill we learn, it is not something we stumble into. Emotional strength does not simply arrive at major life milestones – it is not an organ that you grow when you’ve reached a monumental birthday, when you’ve landed your dream job, or when you’ve had a child. You cannot order emotional strength on Amazon. You cannot write emotional strength onto a resume, because it is unquantifiable. 

There are no awards for unraveling, though the process is undoubtedly one of the most grueling experiences of your life. The only person who recognizes the unraveling is you.

And that, Little Fighter, is significant! Because once you honor the emotional strength you are capable of, once you take ownership of your own resilience, once you understand that you can now harness that strength and use it to propel you, you can do anything. This blog, The Winnowing Year, is where we honor that unrewarded achievement; it is a space that we recognize the very hard emotional work you’ve been doing and that you will continue to do. I see you. More importantly, you see you.

This morning I woke up frustrated – frustrated that this process of unraveling is seemingly unending, frustrated that no matter how much emotional resilience I cultivate, there is always more room for growth. It made me wonder once again if facing emotions head-on in this way was worthwhile.

I glanced over to a letter on my desk. My friend Emmanuel recently wrote to me, encouraging me to turn to a familiar poem, “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann. One stanza in particular always speaks to me:

“you are a child of the universe / no less than the trees and the stars / you have a right to be here / and whether or not it is clear to you / no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should”

The words are beautiful, because they is true. The universe is unfolding as it should

This weekend, let’s think about unfolding, about unraveling our emotional yarn. Let’s take a moment to be gentle with ourselves – to honor the messy, hard, and necessary emotional work that we are doing.  We are trying, and quietly, slowly, gently, we are growing. The universe is unfolding as it should. 

Keep what is necessary. Let go of what is not. Today is a step toward clarity.

Positive vs. Negative Idealization: How to Stop Idealization from Weighing You Down

“It is not Daisy herself who is beautiful; rather the beauty in The Great Gatsby is in Gatsby’s idealization of Daisy, in the beauty of his dream.” This was my thesis statement on a 2008 literary paper in my sophomore high school English class. My teacher, a stunning writer and woman, verbally guided me through my messy thoughts to construct a statement of eloquence and clarity, one I surely could not have constructed independently. That thesis statement has always stuck with me for its poignance, and more importantly, the universal truth it holds.

Sometimes the dream of something is more beautiful than the manifestation of it. It’s why we hear the cliche “Never meet your heroes.” We idolize people, and sometimes the idealization of them does more for us than the reality of who they are. Our imagination constructs a whole world around them. The beauty then, is not in who they are, but in our brain’s conception of who they are.

Our imaginations are a powerful tool for sculpting a worldview. And this world can kick us in the balls. It can be gritty and hard and challenging. And so, it’s not all that bad to find arbitrary things to idealize.

Do I think Cheryl Strayed and I could be best friends? Yes. Does it make me better thinking so? Yes, it inspires me and lifts me higher. Her writing, her career, and her general way of outwardly moving through the world resonates with me. My idealization of her is a positive influence in my life.

Conversely, do I think that an idealization of Cheryl Strayed’s career should be the standard for my current career as a writer? No. Does it make me better thinking so? No, it would feel defeating because the reality is, though Cheryl Strayed produces prolifically, it is always harder than it appears. Plus, I have been a writer for half a long as she! Such an idealization would detrimental and crippling. My idealization of her career would be a negative influence in my life.

Do you see? There is a time an a place for idealization. Idealization is healthy when it inspires and uplifts us. Conversely, idealization is unhealthy when it creates an unrealistic comparison, which weighs us down.

Reader, it is time to let that go. Let go of the idealized parts of your life that hurt you. Why are you holding onto them?

Does wishing you have a bigger house distract you from loving the house you have? Does your peer’s instagramable days make you feel worse about your own uniquely darling, dazzling, daring life?

Our imaginations are a powerful tool. We have the ability to use our imaginations to create weighty comparisons or to use them to propel us forward. Which will you choose? Will your imagination make you feel stuck in the life you have? Or make you feel inspired to achieve the life you want?