The non-linearity of growth and healing

Dark purple crocuses blooming in my yard

I have this image of growth as a force that moves relentlessly in a forward direction, like a child growing steadily taller with each annual check-up or a tree reaching ever higher toward the sky with each new growth ring added to its trunk. Even when it’s slow, growth like this is always moving in one, positive direction.

And then I take a look at my own emotional, psychological, and spiritual growth and feel like a failure. I see little that resembles that orderly, ever-progressing forward movement that I believe growth should look like.

What I see instead is long periods of seeming stagnancy followed by bursts of sudden activity and then seeming regression back to earlier stages. My growth line feels more like the tracings of a drunken, disoriented squirrel than any kind of straight-line trajectory in a single direction.

I was reminded in the last few days that this too is a valid model of growth.

I’ve been ever-so-eagerly awaiting the start of Spring here in my little part of the world. I’m more than ready for green and warmth and flowers to reappear.

My first flowers of Spring are always the little crocuses planted near my home. Every day I check to see their growth, and rejoice with every little bit of progress I spy.

The small clumps of leaves appeared first, pushing their way slowly out of the earth, lengthening and thickening like grasses.

The yellow crocuses, which are nestled in a bit of ground cover, bloomed a few weeks ago. The light purple ones bloomed last week, and then on Sunday I discovered a new, dark purple crocus bloom that I don’t remember seeing before.

I was over-the-moon excited to discover this single new blossom so close to the official start of Spring. What a marvelous sign that Spring really was on its way!

Much to my surprise, I checked on Monday to find that same clump of leaves suddenly covered with a mass of dark purple blooms, of which there was no sign the day before. (See the image at the start of this post for what this amazing burst of growth looked like.)

Yesterday, on the Spring Equinox, temperatures dropped again and snow flurries raged in high winds. All those pretty crocuses closed in on themselves in the face of the cold like tight little fists. Only small shards of color could be seen at the edges of what now appear to be nothing but buds.

Yet I know that when it warms up again in a few days, these tight little fists of buds will once again open into lovely blooms, perhaps even adding a few new ones to the bouquet.

Watching this slow movement toward the first bloom, the explosion of the subsequent blooms, and the retreat into closed buds looks so much more like the way I experience my own growth and healing. It’s reassuring to see it so healthily modeled in the natural world as a normal reality.

It reminds me that the state of my growth and healing is never independent of my circumstances and surroundings.

In times when the conditions feel safe and nurturing, I may see an explosion of growth much like the profusion of blossoms that appeared in Monday’s warm, sunny conditions.

Then when challenges and stress and overwhelm pile up, that vulnerable new growth is likely to turn in on itself for protection, and my old patterns will emerge full force, as if I’d never grown at all.

When I consider it this way and imagine that new growth like these fragile crocus blossoms tightening down into themselves in the cold, my seeming regression doesn’t feel so much like failure. It’s not that the growth I’d noticed before wasn’t valid and real; it just isn’t (yet) strong enough and practiced enough to withstand the blast of a storm.

The growth is still there, even if I am having a hard time accessing it in the midst of challenges, and it will still there waiting for me to continue working with it and practicing my new patterns when the storm abates.

The key is not giving up on myself or my growth in those moments of seeming regression. Those blossoms will open again with continued work and better conditions.

If you’re like me and have been brow-beating yourself or piling shame on your head because your growth and healing does not always move in the steady, straight-line trajectory you imagined it should go, I hope these little crocuses will inspire you as much as they have me this week.

May you also blossom into new growth at your own pace and in your own way as the conditions support, and may you never, ever give up on yourself or your own continued healing and expansion!

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