Look at this picture of a rhododendron in the Arboretum. On this particular day, this plant had everything – tightly wound buds with but a tiny hint of pink, a cluster of blossoms with one flower section bursting out and the rest still closed, a bunch of blossoms nearly fully in bloom, and everything in between. Is this plant an “early bloomer?” A “late bloomer?” The more I studied it, the more I felt nurtured by its multi-faceted presence. It held everything – all the stages of blossoming – just like us. “Early” and “late” have a qualitative connotation – one is deemed as positive and the other as at least slightly negative. Looking at this plant the other day, I could not imagine judging any single part of it – it simply was responding to the particular mix of sun, rain, soil, and other conditions in its own unique, beautiful way. The first buds to blossom were no more deserving of attention, admiration, and nurturing, than the ones yet to come. I felt compelled to embrace more deeply the fundamental truth that we are all “mixed bags.” Different parts of us mature at different times — and just as we can hold in wonder a baby’s first steps – at nine months, one year, or seventeen months, we can offer ourselves and each other that same tenderness.
I have always been responsible, “mature for my age.” At least that’s what I thought. I took care of my younger siblings, did lots of chores, read early, marched through all the expected academic stages steadfastly and well, provided emotional support to my parents, and didn’t “cause any trouble.”
However, I entered my 20’s without many skills in the area of relationships, especially romantic relationships. I was scared, selfish, and unconsciously reacting from a trigger-ready bag of hurt and confusion. It took years and years before I truly understood my behavior and before I could have a healthy, mutual, unconditionally loving, life partner relationship. On the other hand, I was a fairly mature mother right from the start; I had a lot of skills and understanding about parenting. At the same time (on the third or fourth hand?), I had plenty of missteps, was unskilled in certain areas of mothering, and am in an ongoing, unending learning process, as I continue to grow as a parent of young adult children.
Along the way, I have felt ashamed of my immature parts. I have wanted to hide them, and spent way too many years judging myself and castigating myself for my imperfections. As I sit with people now, friends, clients, and family members, I often hear this same judgment. “Why am I still struggling with self-doubt at 37 years old?” “I can’t believe that I am still so angry at my parents; I am 45 years old!” “I still feel so embarrassed that I married that person, and we have not been together for more than ten years!” “We have been together for twelve years, but my wife and I have never talked about this part of our relationship. What’s wrong with us?”
What is this arbitrary map we set for ourselves? The things is, we are all beloved – exactly as we are right now. There is an overflow of love, acceptance, and unwavering hope for each of us. Our human nature is perfectly in tune with nature itself. Some parts just starting to bloom; some parts not yet ready to flower, some parts needing some pruning or extra nourishment, and some parts in full, blossomy glory.
It takes courage, persistence, grace, and support to understand ourselves, to hope, and to change. It is not a linear path, and it is fraught with many obstacles of vulnerability, loneliness, and confusion. Gentleness is key. I celebrate the ways in which I have been able to heal, to let go of limiting beliefs, to forgive myself and others, and to feel alive and bursting with optimism. I am touched every single day by the people I sit with, who are willing to be honest about their path and are tenderly taking even the tiniest step forward towards fully loving themselves. Their blossoms – just like the mystery of each individual petal, leaf, and twig are an incredible teacher and inspiration.
May your own “mixed bag” nature continue to grow into the most magnificent expression of yourself.