like a child climbing a tree in a storm.
I was walking through a Kauri forest with my Mum in New Zealand recently and she was pointing out all the saplings and telling me which trees they would become (she’s a retired landscape designer). The young trees generally looked nothing like the giants they would become – some were so different as to be almost comical. It got me thinking about growth, specifically personal growth of the spiritual and emotional variety. When personal growth is careful and moderate it seems just like the growth of a tree; it begins as a seed, grows into a sapling and finally into maturity and from there flowers and fruits and produces its own seeds, while continuing to broaden with age, reach out new limbs and lose and replace leaves. The analogy would be especially apt if the sapling we start with could become any of the trees in the forest (unless you believe entirely in fatalism). Taking it even further is the fact that trees, once they fall, can become any number of entirely different structures all over again, reincarnated.
So there is personal growth that gathers slowly and unfolds like a magnanimous oak, reaching maturity over many years. Then there are growth spurts that rip through like sudden storms, fierce and cleansing, but potentially painful and confronting. Perhaps the growing pains children experience if their bodies quickly shift shape and size more aptly describes this second type of growth – when the expansion is so sudden and complete that the edges rip open. You are bigger afterwards and you can’t go back.
I’ve experienced both kinds of growth this year – the gentle unfolding, and the sudden storm that feels like the walls of the world collapsing. (My analogies are gathering, joining together like a forest, the tree tops intertwining.) Both types seem important, necessary, a blessing – requiring different kinds of understanding and acceptance.
On some level, personal growth means shedding one form and becoming another. It means change. And change, however necessary or welcome, often involves a period of discomfort and realignment. When I seek to change, to grow and expand and be more and see more, I have to experience and release the parts of me that are not expansion and release, that are in opposition or are an old way of being. When my old ways of being are particularly familiar or ingrained, letting them go can feel frightening, even excruciating. After that, perhaps a long time after that, there is release. I am reminding myself a lot at the moment that once I let my old ways go, I will be free.