My Inner Sunflower
It’s 1990. I’m riding in the passenger seat of my dad’s tiny sports car on the way back to my boarding school, Choate, for my senior year of high school. I’m 17 and at a true crossroads in my life. I’m embarking upon a journey toward adulthood, choosing colleges and my landscape of the next four years.
At the same time, I’m discovering what truly defines me. I’ve embraced my love for science and the outdoors and feel passionate about fixing what I see wrong with the environment. I’m young and unencumbered, so I have lofty goals and a bright future. Why not shoot for the stars? Unable to contain my enthusiasm as we approach school on the Merritt Parkway, I bubble over with excitement about the changes I hope to effect once I graduate from high school, college, and whatever comes beyond.
I’m completely unprepared for the stinging reaction I receive from my father, immediately making me feel trapped inside his car. He lectures me about the ways of the world and how, if I wish to be successful, I need to understand the art of compromise and, most importantly, that idealism must be met with realism. He suddenly represents all that I wanted to change in the world. So I shut down and shut him out – for the next four years.
I guess my passion pervades all areas of my life.
As the years ticked by, I began to understand what my Dad’s lecture was all about that day. He was coming from a place of love and guidance and wanted to help me understand that the world is not fair and that I would be met with challenges. If I were to hang on to an idealistic principle in its most pristine state, it would remain just that – pristine, untouched, and unrealized.
To effect change, compromises must be made, but not at the price of the principle. The art of compromise is all about finding that magic spot where sacrifice manifests in the actualization of the principle rather than in the compromising of the principle.
Four short years later, I applied this very lesson to my relationship with my father. I realized we didn’t have to agree on everything. We had plenty of things to talk about; I didn’t always have to respond or spar with him on topics where we disagreed. Eventually, we became extraordinarily close, despite our vastly different views on politics and the environment. We found a way to honor one another without sacrificing our own moral principles. We were simply two authentic souls connecting with one another and finding love, light, and strength in our bond. I really do miss him.
I have been extremely limited in my mobility this summer. I have been patiently waiting for my new fancy wheelchair, using this time to rest, meditate, and heal from debilitating back and hip pain. I have spent hours in our backyard, watching the beautiful garden my husband planted come to life. Knowing how much I have been missing my freedom to roam the outdoors, he brought the flowers to me this summer.
A while back, an outlier cropped up in our carefully manicured raised beds. I asked Jim who the intruder was, and why it was given permission to grow. He explained that it was a sunflower seed, and that a squirrel had stolen it from a bird feeder and planted it! Since these were my wedding bouquet flowers, he decided to let that one grow, just for me. All summer long, I’ve been watching it, like Jack’s beanstalk, reaching for the sky.
Meanwhile, I’ve also been meditating and reflecting on how I can heal myself from the inside out. I’ve found myself revisiting my youth and carefully looking at my evolution into adulthood. Akin to a seed that has been planted, how we develop directly correlates with our environment. If all systems are a go – abundant light (love), sufficient nutrients (food), adequate shelter (home), water and air (support) – then we blossom to full capacity. Any interruptions along the way will certainly impact our growth and ability to fully reach our potential. At least on the outside. But what about the inside? Do we also develop internal scars from our formative years as we experience the hardships and lessons?
Think about it – we all agree that tension and stress directly cause muscle soreness and disrupt sleep. So if we absorb stress in this manner chronically throughout our lifetime, why wouldn’t it manifest in a deeper, more chronic scar? Could my cancer be an internal scar from my formative years? A manifestation of disharmony in my balance that went unrecognized, became suppressed, and surfaced in the form of a tumor?
To answer these questions, I found myself plunging deep into meditation and reflection about my present and past. I replayed memories of my childhood like movies, except I was watching myself in the third person rather than experiencing my life firsthand. One day, an extraordinary thing happened. My adult self stumbled upon my inner child – my true spiritual self – the innate idealist within. Think back to childhood, back when we believed in the Tooth Fairy and life was Candyland full of Chutes and Ladders. Everything is magical to the inner child. Possibilities are infinite; love is unbounded; Unicorns are real! This is the innate core of our true self – our inner child, our bright idealist.
Along the way, something happened to me. My trust was violated, I felt abandoned and suddenly, the game of Life became real, with tangible loss and hardship. A shift occurred and the light of the inner child within was dimmed. I was taught this is the inevitable right of passage into adulthood: You learn that life is not fair and suffering is guaranteed. Idealism must be met with realism to succeed. Well, no longer! I have rediscovered the innate core of me and it’s as if I have been transported back in time to that car with my Dad. In that moment, I made a choice to listen to my father’s advice, based on the best information and resources I had at the time. I was only 17 for Pete’s sake. It doesn’t mean I have to live by that choice forever. At 44, I certainly have a far better stock of resources at my fingertips to aid in my decision making.
On that magical day when I found my inner child again, patiently waiting for me in my dad’s car, I made a new choice. To honor and love this idealist and let her back into the light. Begin to live my life by a different code. Not one anchored in sacrificing my principles to achieve success. But one that is rooted firmly in my true self, deeply connected to my light and honoring my principles. On this day, I found the voice of my inner child and felt a comforting duplicity, as if I could keep my own self company. I could literally feel this well of childish excitement stir from within – something I had not felt since before my mom’s death. I felt pure giddiness. Butterflies in my stomach. Pure Unicorn joy. No fear. No doubt. An infinite horizon. The ability to be truly present in your moment. It was an amazing reunion within me – bringing my mind, body, and soul into union for the first time in a very, very long time.
Coincidentally, this was the same day that sunflower bloomed in the backyard. It had undergone a tremendous metamorphosis from its original seed state. Each stage along the way culminating in the the radiant beauty of a flower that tracks the sunlight. Similar to the developmental stages of the flower, my life has been full of experiences manifesting in who I am today. But I am not stuck here, I am just who I am in this moment. And I have the ability to harness my inner child, eyes wide open, full of hope and light. Wild and passionate, untamed and unbridled. The harness is my adult self, the side that has experienced great trauma yet gained significant wisdom in the process. Patient, perseverant, mindful, and aware. I am unifying my wild, passionate side with my tempered, sage side – bringing my inner child and adult self into harmony for the first time ever. Imagine the possibilities now.
Life is truly full of signs and symbols. If you are present and aware you simply cannot miss them. Prior to writing this, I was feeling a crazy connection to my Dad, which probably inspired his presence in this content. It was not until I was halfway through writing that I realized the date – it was three years ago to the day that he had died – August 16, 2014.
It’s crazy that a squirrel planted one sunflower – our wedding flower – in the raised garden beds this summer. And that it germinated. And that I watched it grow all summer, until one day it burst open under the abundant light of the sun. Now, I watch it track the sun daily, gently turning its head to ensure it basks in the full radiance of its energy source.
I’m so grateful that my inner journey has paralleled the development of this robust sunflower all summer. Like it, I’ve been working very hard, growing on the inside so I can manifest abundance and brilliance on the outside. I, too, will gently turn my soul to follow my brilliant light. I will honor my inner child while tempering her with the wisdom of my adult self. I will stand tall and bask in the joy of the light while I continue to heal from the inside out.