I have been thinking for some time now about the fragility of new things. Prompted by time spent walking through the oak trees near my home, my thoughts initially catch on the incongruity of the bright delicate buds in spring juxtaposed with the old gnarled bark that has seen so many summers and winters. Those delicate new leaves look impossibly fragile in spring – as if a brisk rain could destroy them. Yet by mid-June they are sturdy and darkened in colour, grown into their purpose and crucial to the life of their tree.
Competing thoughts arise as I watch the leaves blowing. First, how beautiful young things are as they grow into themselves – whether trees or animals, dreams or children. Second, worry rising, a small knot in my stomach, as I acknowledge anxiety for what will happen to all this innocent exuberance when it meets the world.
New things – whether plant, animal or human – seem fragile, and often are. The natural instinct for most of us, when faced with this kind of vulnerability, is to protect it. For parents, this can be a fierce impulse that becomes a constant dance in and out – stand back or step in? Too little involvement or too much? Where is the ‘just right’ point that allows children to gain confidence and independence while still knowing they are loved and protected? These questions can be equally applied to the inner journey.
We all have places in our lives where the rough weathered everyday is disrupted by new growth. At the moment, perhaps it’s the promise of venturing out into the world again after months of lockdown and restricted movement. Perhaps it’s the excitement of a new relationship – that delicious uncertainty of what might or might not happen. Maybe it’s a longheld dream emerging into the real world, its time come at last. It might be the exploration of an identity long held within but not acknowledged openly until now. It might even be an unexpected spiritual awakening that has forever shifted your view of the world.
These new births often emerge in therapy, and as therapist I witness their brightness. It’s an excitement in the voice, a light in the eyes, a sense of … possibility? As clients explore new parts of themselves arising, I often also feel that dual awareness of beauty and fragility. However, I notice that many of us neglect to nurture and support these new and vulnerable parts of ourselves in the same way as we would protect a new being in the outside world.
Recognise the process
What does it mean to protect the newborn parts of ourselves until they are strong and sturdy? A first step might be to recognise the special nature of the process you are in. Notice that something is shifting and changing within you – and accept that you might be vulnerable while that is happening. Allow yourself to feel emotional, up and down, anxious, sad, excited – all these emotions are part of growth. Observe how they feel in your body, breathe them in and let them pass. If you write in a journal, you can explore these feelings in greater depth. You can also track how they (and you) change and develop over time.
Live the questions
As Rilke wrote in Letters to a Young Poet, “Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” When we enter a process of change, there is a great temptation to rush through it. Staying with the questions without rushing to the answers can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. However, allowing those questions to ripen and mature is a crucial part of protecting the new self that is emerging.
Protecting yourself might mean avoiding those who will dismiss and belittle your process until you are strong enough not to be bowled over. I have often seen people shut down by an unthinking dismissal or a critical remark. ‘Who do you think you are?’… ‘the state of you!’… ‘what a stupid idea!’ … ‘that’ll never work!’ It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t intended to be devastating. A comment like this can kill a tentative transformation before it even begins.
Stepping outside your box can be very threatening to the people around you who benefit from the status quo, either because it makes their life easier in some way or allows them to remain unchallenged in their own beliefs and assumptions. Build your inner strength and prepare yourself for these encounters before engaging with them.
You can enable your own growth by seeking the right kind of support – whether that’s a community, a therapist or a friend. Linking in with other people who are on a similar path can be a powerful support, allowing you to benefit from the experiences of others as you learn. Similarly, a therapist can help you deepen and strengthen your process, pointing out pitfalls you mightn’t have noticed and accompanying you on your inner journey.
Support is vital for that point on your path when you begin to take the risk of being seen. That might involve sharing your creative work or telling people about your new relationship. It might mean opening up about the challenges you’ve been facing with mental or physical health. It might mean leaving your job, returning to study or any one of a million other worthwhile risks.
And of course, while fragile new things need to be nurtured and protected, they eventually reach the point of being strong enough to thrive on their own. It can be hard to take the step from preparation to action, from planning change to making change. Prepare well, provide yourself with the necessary support and trust that – like the oak trees – you will grow into exactly who and what you are meant to be. You’ll know when it’s time to take that first step. Even if you can’t quite see your destination yet, it’s out there waiting for you.
If you’re beginning new journeys or birthing new parts of yourself, I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch if you need therapeutic support or simply some soul care, helping you to find your way into or through that deeper journey of soul and spirit. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (086) 739 7213