Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On Being a Sunflower

My birth month is typically accompanied by self-reflection, an almost involuntary reflex that I have grown to count on and value. It is a time to go back to my beginnings and my roots, to celebrate the ways that I’m honoring these roots, and to take stock of the ways that I could use an adjustment. While I do this throughout the year, February is a special time, and it helps when my son reminds me every morning “It’s almost the special day, it’s almost your BIRTHDAY!”

My work of late has been to let myself shine like a sunflower. Words that pop into mind around this work are self-centered (literally, centered in myself) and full-of-myself (growing into my own full-ness), ego-centric (centered in the “I”), all expressions that I grew up to think of as wrong. Perhaps it’s a shortcoming of our language and culture that there isn’t a word that conveys correct honoring of one’s ego, and so ironically we have found ourselves at the alter of ego and self-promotion in popular culture and beyond. We are either self-effacing, or self-glorifying, the woman who constantly apologizes, or the man who relishes in that apology. Both miss the mark.

There is a laundry list of ways that I have tried to hide my sunflower. Volunteering excessively rather than honoring the value of my time. Working really hard to make the grouchy person in the room like me, as if their approval will affirm me. Deflecting compliments. Hunching my shoulders. Apologizing after my inner lioness lets out a needed growl.

It’s easy to misunderstand what it means to unveil the sunflower inside each of us. Suddenly we find ourselves caught in new traps. I urgently have to express what I feel the moment I feel it. You have to hear and understand who I am and how I shine. The way I see it is correct. My voice is more important, my work richer. No one praises me so I will praise myself.

Let’s look at the sunflower, herself. Her stalk is thick and hairy, quintessentially exemplifying the world stalky. She sways in the wind, sensitive to the breeze, but exists in a firm way that doesn’t easily crush. She is unabashedly tall, and opens into a huge, meaty brown heart and surprisingly delicate, bright yellow petals. She is not ashamed or devoured by the hummingbirds that feast on her seeds; she knows it is an exchange. She just is, beautiful and authentic, comfortable as she mirrors the brightness of the sun. She lives in a field of other sunflowers; she has no need to be the only one, and the vast beauty of the collective enhances her shine.   

This month, these days, the sunflower is my compass. In a roomful of middle school students, exuberant, moody, questioning, I focus on keeping my center and my balance. When suggesting ideas to a group I remind myself not to start with an apologetic or minimizing clause. I’ve nearly eliminated the word “just” from my vocabulary.  While all ages have their virtues and shortcomings, the further I progress into my 30s the more grateful I am for the sense of comfort I have to simply shine.