The Sad Little Poinsettia

I recently took some time off for the holiday season and returned to find a scraggly little poinsettia in my waiting room, reminiscent of the tree featured in A Charlie Brown Christmas.  What was once a full, healthy ivory poinsettia in early December was reduced to meager specimen come early January.

It might seem strange to link dying poinsettias to the topics of counselling and mental health, but it relates to a subject I bring up frequently in therapy sessions: impermanence.

What Is Impermanence?

We hear this term occasionally and it’s just as it sounds, that which is “not permanent” or “transient,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  It’s a condition that’s around us all the time, permeating every aspect of our life.  Everything around us in a state of flux and change constantly.  Most of us prefer not to think about this.

Our Drive for Security

Instead we like to think about things that foster an illusion of safety, security and permanence. Family, friends, our home, a car.  Sometimes we get into projects that are so engrossing, they’re almost timeless, or if we master a particular skill we might even feel invincible.

Is Security Bad?

Before you conclude that this is an article about living without ‘emotional props,’ and taking all manner of personal and psychological risks, that is not my intention.  We’re human beings after all, and it’s the connection and interdependence with others which makes us so.  But when we attach to something like it’s never going to end, be it a relationship, object, role or skill, we’re in for a rough ride emotionally because things do end. Cars break down, technology becomes obsolete, people die, bodies wear out. Wow, this is sounding pretty grim…but wait.

Benefits of Change

It may be inconceivable that change could help us.  Here are some points:

  • Nothing lasts forever, not even horrible things. We learn that no situation is static; even bad situations and conditions change eventually.
  • When things change we have the opportunity to learn and grow as people. We become flexible, adaptable, stronger than we thought possible. We don’t realize our potential until we’re challenged.
  • Gratitude increases. We appreciate people, moments and even things more when we realize life’s fragility. For example, many of us spend increased time with loved ones when we know their health his failing. We take time off work to catch a child’s ballet recital knowing that not only is our support invaluable to the child but also recognizing that these exact moments do not come again.
  • Increased peace. When we can be still within ourselves as the waves of change roll through and around us we can understand that inner stillness and outer chaos can coexist.  We do not have to make the ‘outer’, ‘inner’ and the inner can come from a place of recognizing and accepting that change is the natural state of things.
  • Seeing things in a new light. Recognizing change is like thinking outside of the box, in a world where security is everything. When we stretch ourselves psychologically, spiritually–making ourselves just slightly uncomfortable–we feel the increased internal resiliency that comes from doing so and from blazing our own trail.

Before I completed this article, I came to work and noticed that the poinsettia was gone. I felt a little sad, imagining it in a landfill somewhere. But then I thought, maybe it has found a place again, eventually becoming compost and bringing forth new life once more.