The Ant and the Flower

ant and flower


Aspiring gardeners everywhere converge on flower shops during Memorial Day weekend to populate yard and house with perennials, bushes, and baskets.  This tradition always reminds me of a lesson I learned growing up.  My mom is a fantastic gardener with a vast array of knowledge about the little known intricacies of plants.  When I was young she shared the story of an often overlooked symbiotic relationship: the ant and the flower.

The peony is a long-stemmed perennial with lush, green foliage and an oversized, fragrant blossom.  It’s the supernova of flowers with a tightly confined bud that bursts open to reveal free form, vibrant petals in full bloom.

I rarely see this flower featured in vases, centerpieces, or clipping gardens, and with good reason.  Its indoor unpopularity can be attributed to the transportation of an unwelcome house guest: the ant.

When the peony is in its constricted bud form, the ant is drawn to its sticky, sweet sap.  The ant will journey to the center of the bud, loosening the petals as it squeezes in between, pushing its way to the sweet nectar.  Over time, some believe it is the ant’s journey inward to the nectar that opens the petals, exposing them to the sunlight and completing the transformation from bud to bloom.  Once the flower blooms, the ant leaves.

Without the ant, full bloom is unlikely.  The internal petals are shrouded by the constricting outer ones, and sunlight is prevented, leading to browned and shriveled buds that drop from the stem.

Some say this is merely a tale–ants aren’t essential for the transformation to occur.  All agree, however, that if the ants weren’t there, other bugs would eat away at the plant, thereby killing it.

There’s a symbiotic relationship between our past and present.  If the bud to flower transformation is growth, the ant is the past nudging its way into the center of that bud, intrusively pushing until it opens.  Once the transformation is complete, it leaves.

Most of us dissect time into separate blocks.  We say, “It’s in the past,” meaning that what happened at a single point in our life story no longer affects the way we interact with our current reality.

We have a greater propensity to believe this when we’re in pain.  This is a protective mechanism.  If we tell ourselves an experience is in the past and no longer applies to our present, we can suppress the painful feelings and associations that go with it.

The past is the intrusive ant, imposing upon the present flower.  Without the present, the past remains untranslated; without the past, the present remains underdeveloped.

All of us have negative, patterned responses that insist on surfacing, episodically.  This can come in the form of hair trigger reactions to yelling, or compulsive nail biting when we’re under stress, or over indulging in our hobbies when we’re angry.

These responses are markers of our past bleeding into our present.  They represent the way we’ve learned to compensate.  Most of us blindly engage in these responses with little thought to how they originated until they become untenable.

If we choose to notice them, they are clues to understanding that symbiotic relationship, and how the translation of the past can transform the present.

This Memorial Day weekend, when you observe the blossoming spring foliage, consider the ant and the flower.  What are the responses in your world that are markers of the intruding past?  What is unfinished in the growth process that necessitates the symbiosis?

As I write this, there’s a tiny, black ant dancing across my keyboard.  I feel a little surge of excitement, as if he’s a welcome herald, signaling that my life is about to change.


Beyond the Cave


It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your front door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

― Bilbo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings

  In my last post I talked about how we hide in our caves to avoid the dangerous world.  Our world is not safe, so when we don’t find the security we’re craving, we retreat inward.

That cave of safety is a barrier.  It insulates us from healthy risks, new adventures, and new relationships.  The cave enables us to avoid expansion.

You see the secret is this: anxiety grows us.  When we embrace our fear, when we wrap our arms around it and draw it close, we are transformed by that embrace.

If you want to change, you have to embrace your fear, and if you want to embrace your fear, you have to listen to it.  Become a really good soul listener.

Stop creating busyness to distract you from the anxiety.  Pay attention to what the fear is saying, about you, and how you view yourself, about others, and how you’re afraid they view you.  Ask yourself, “What am I really afraid of?”  “What’s the worst that could happen if I emerge from my cave?”

The beautiful reality is this, when we embrace the anxiety it diminishes.  When we lean into the tension, it fades.  We may even hear ourselves saying, “That wasn’t so bad.”  “I’m so glad I took that risk.”

As you peer out of Chicken Little’s cave, instead of witnessing falling skies, you may see a bountiful crop of acorns blanketing the ground.  Where destruction is expected, there’s provision instead.

Go then, friends.  Emerge from your cave with courage and embrace your fear.  Listen to it—and as you listen may you also hear the voices of freedom, creativity, resilience, and joy.