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Mother Nature’s Curriculum on Creative Practice (Part 1 of 2)
Spring has sprung and lessons are in full bloom
Mother Nature selflessly gifts us with a bounty of fresh food to keep us healthy, trees to help us breathe and water for survival. She also provides important lessons sprinkled throughout the natural world; Easter Eggs for humans to find, adopt and adapt.
The concept of biomimicry has fascinated me for some time now. Biomimicry is all about looking to existing solutions in nature to solve human problems. For example, Velcro was inspired by the hook and loop system naturally found within burr bushes. The aerodynamic shape of whale’s pectoral fins inspired the design of wind turbine blades. Biomimicry continues to draw me closer to the natural world as I appreciate the small-scale wonders all around me, pondering the lessons nestled within.
I’m no gardener (Certified Cactus Killer, here), but as I intentionally slow down in the spring and summer months, I’m more observant about the world around me. In a way, each spring feels like a homecoming; returning back to class with Mother Nature as my teacher. Through her beautiful, lush awakening, she reminds me about the timeless lessons related to creative living found within her classroom, often ripe with metaphor. I can’t help but sit on the edge of my seat, leaning in and listening intently with all of my senses.
What can Mother Nature’s early spring delights teach us about creative practice?
A whole lot, it turns out.
Magnolia: Magnolia trees display beautiful, dramatic blooms early each spring. It always surprises me that such a tropical-looking flower exists on the cusp of winter, before anything else has decided to wake from hibernation.
The lessons that Magnolia trees teach us are two fold:
There are rewards for being the first. When there’s little-to-no competition — even in the form of other greenery, never mind other flowers — Magnolia trees feel like a breath of fresh air; an exciting preview of the abundance ahead. When you take the creative leap early and do what no other surrounding beings are doing, you may be rewarded for your novelty with praise and gratitude.
Go big or go home. The first blossom of the spring isn’t a tiny little sprout or a modest green leaf. No, it’s a huge flowering tree in all shades of pink. Magnolia trees show up unapologetically and I can’t thank them enough for their vulnerability, even in the face of frosty nights.
Hostas: Hosta plants are large and leafy, filling out the garden beautifully. They take little-to-no effort to care for, which is why they thrive in my garden.
I looked closely at the leaves of a hosta after a heavy rain and I was amazed to see the efficient system upon which this plant operates. Rainwater sits on the surface of the leaves and is funnelled down the stem to the base of the plant where the water is needed. It’s a self watering plant! Mother Nature shows us that getting systems in place means that I can ‘set it and forget it’.
In his bestselling book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, author James Clear explains the way that making change is less about the individual and more about the system backing the habit. Change the system, change the habit. Clear reminds us that we don’t rise to the level of our goals; rather we fall to the level of our systems. Everything flows with the right system in place.
Green Garden Lilies: As garden lilies begin to rise from the ground, they look a lot like ordinary grass. There’s nothing too impressive about them.
The lesson they teach us is that sometimes the simple solution is the best solution. For what garden lilies lack in pizzazz, they more than make up for in practicality. Function over form reigns supreme as they fill the spot in the garden, look great, hide weeds sprouting up beneath them and need very little attention and care. They look great from the start of spring to the end of fall. Less is more, plain and simple.
Soloman’s Seals: These hearty, leafy stalks are one of my very favourite plants in the garden. They arrive each year taking up the same footprint and growing to be the same height as each year previous. For all of their consistency, they have a slow start. But a slow start doesn’t mean a slow finish because they grew about a foot in under a week, sprouting right up, surpassing the height of all other plants in the garden once they get going.
Solomon’s Seals teach us that there can be a steep learning curve to a new skill or new technique or the adoption of a new worldview, but once you’ve begun the journey (often the hardest part!) and mastered the fundamentals, momentum builds and the results are worth the initial effort.
Cherry Blossom Tree: Cherry blossoms are visually striking trees that make themselves known through an array of sensory stimuli (namely colour, as well as the softest, most beautifully fragrant petals). Entire festivals are held to celebrate these magnificent trees and the meaning behind them.
As I write this, the final petals are releasing themselves from the cherry blossom tree across the street from my home. I went out of my way to visit this tree today, breathing in a final breath of the season, trying to capture its subtly complex scent. It’s one of my very favourite aromas in this entire world and I must now wait another 350 days until I experience it again.
The lessons that cherry blossoms have to share include:
Every day is the chance to reinvent yourself. For the short time that they are in bloom, cherry blossom trees look different with each passing day. Shifting from vibrant pink to pale pink happens within the span of a few days before all of the petals fall to the ground. The only constant in life is change and the cherry blossom isn’t afraid to show up in the world upon sunrise looking decidedly different than it did at sunset. Each new day in the cherry blossom tree’s short bloom is a transformation; an awakening.
Sometimes there is something so spectacular that happens for such a short time that we must put everything else down to experience it. The blooming period of cherry blossom trees last less than two weeks, representing approximately 4% of the year. The Japanese phrase ‘Mono No Aware’ describes the feeling when one realizes that the beautiful cherry blossoms will soon be gone. It’s a gentle longing that comes with understanding the blossoms’ impermanence; their scarcity makes the event even more beautiful. Creative living ebbs and flows through seasons and there are times when we must remain as present as possible. During these times, we must stop ruminating on the past, stop planning for the future and simply stop to smell the roses (or at least the cherry blossoms!). May we carpe that diem and set down our work with the confidence that our creative practice will be waiting for us when we return.
Part 2 of 2 features lessons I’ve learned about creative practice from hibiscus, tulips, dandelions, a mystery plant and a really, really super-duper old Christmas cactus.
You can find it in your inbox next Tuesday. :)
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