As I sit here writing, winter has well and truly ended and spring is in the air. I've just been out for a walk and the evidence of a new season is abundant: cows in the fields with their young calves, warm morning sunshine, the need to wear one less layer of outdoor clothing [hooray!] and flowers.
There are beautiful spring flowers all around the countryside where I live. It's almost as if one moment there was no sign of them and then all of a sudden they appeared in their uplifting glory. My eyes are blessed with a swathe of bright yellow, cream and purple petals. Some are wild flowers, some have been purposefully planted but they are all beautiful.
And this got me thinking. We can learn so much from nature and flowers are no exception. Inspired by Voltaire's philosophy and enlivened by this leap forward in nature, what lessons can we garner from flowers about living a happier, more positive life?
1. Be part of a network
Many studies suggest that interpersonal relationships can have a multitude of benefits. From reducing our susceptibility to minor ailments such as colds to extending our longevity, social contact is considered to be extremely powerful.
In our busy lives, it's easy to be drawn into working hard for long hours and for social or family time to fall to the bottom of the list.
Flowers are part of a vital network which keeps the world of nature turning. They attract bees and other animals to them who aid the pollination process that in turn ensures the spread of a new generation of seeds and seedlings. Moreover, flowers provide sustenance for a whole host of creatures including bats, primates, ants, butterflies and beetles.
We may not always feel like it, but we too each have something special and unique to offer the world. It might be tempting to shut ourselves away on darker days but we cannot exist in isolation forever.
Although others may seem different to us [for example, we may not share the same values] we are all still part of the same ecosystem and we depend upon one another for our wellbeing and survival.
Pick up the phone, speak to your neighbour, or arrange to meet a friend or family member for dinner, and volunteer in your community. The 'to do' pile will always be there but those who are special to us may not. Find a way to connect with someone today.
2. Don't give up
Think of a seed or a bulb planted in late autumn or early spring. From this moment, the seed's goal is to grow into a flower which is rooted and alive. Often, seeds will have to endure changes in soil temperature, fluctuations in the amount of moisture they receive and animals trying to dig them up as food. But they persevere and they emerge.
It can be very tempting to think that if we aren't presented with the exact conditions we believe we need to succeed at something that we simply won't succeed. This doesn't have to be the case.
Whatever you're trying to do in life, you have already begun to be successful by starting step one: trying.
From here on, think of yourself as an emerging seedling. Don't give up and, like an emerging flower, be willing to adapt to your changing circumstances.
Think of a seedling growing on the tiniest patch of soil emerging from a crack in concrete. Although not an 'ideal' environment, the seed makes what it can of it nonetheless.
3. Enjoy the sunshine
All too often, we rush about in life [myself included] and are too preoccupied to appreciate the glory of days.
Flowers open their petals when the sun is shining and bask in the sun's warmth. All things need energy to grow. Plants use the sun's light to photosynthesise and produce food.
Whilst we eat food to physically sustain our energy levels, we also need to ensure that our emotional health is taken care of. Pausing to enjoy the sunshine, whether it's sunny outside or not, is a step in living life rather than just surviving it.
When I was walking earlier, although I had set myself a 'time limit', I allowed myself to stop and observe a few things as I trundled down the lanes. Because this was a change in the pace of my day, it felt good. In those moments, I was really present and engaged with myself and my surroundings.
Every day is a gift – try to look at what you can appreciate in each one.
4. Take time to rest
Have you ever noticed that some flowers close their petals at night? There seem to be a number of theories for this. It isn't thought that these flowers are sleeping but that they may be conserving energy and protecting their pollen until the day time. This way, they can benefit from pollination during daylight hours when most insects are active.
Whilst we are caught up in our daily lives, we may not allow ourselves time for a good night's sleep let alone take a five-minute break during the day. Our bodies need time to heal and repair physically which they do when we are sleeping. Plus, our mind and emotions need a break too.
Even a minute’s repose can be beneficial. I've recently begun to train to teach Tai Chi Movements for Well-being and, as part of this, undertake daily practise. Sometimes I manage twenty minutes and sometimes I manage one.
When you think about it, one minute (or even five) out of your day is nothing. Don't know where to begin? Try sitting on a chair and closing your eyes – set a timer if you think you might keep checking the clock. Breathe slowly and deeply and focus on the in and out breath, keeping your body as relaxed as possible.
A short walk, a few minutes listening to music, stretching, taking a nap, playing your favourite musical instrument, writing a journal or singing are just some of the ways to take a break. Do whatever you enjoy and what works for you.
5. Be graceful as your blooms change
To paraphrase an ancient Greek Philosopher, Herakleitos is believed to have said that the only constant in life is change.
I find that this is a useful philosophy because change seems to be one of the hardest concepts for us as humans to accept. Like us, flowers pass through phases of change, from seedling to plant. There are times when they move outward to bloom and times when they move inward to rest and rejuvenate. Their lives may be temporary but they can still be meaningful and full of life in those moments.
Try not to get caught up in attempting to hold onto the past. Each moment is a moment of your life, your existence. Live your life now.
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