Growing up is one thing. Growing “down” is quite another thing altogether.
When we are growing up, we need certain things: food, of course; shelter; warmth, touch, and love for a start. Caring relationships matter greatly. Gradually though, we need to venture out, becoming mobile and slightly independent. When we get hurt along the way — we trip or fall or skin a knee — we need a mixture of assistance from others as well as ample opportunities to figure things out ourselves. Unless we struggle some, we never grow to our full potential.
Moving on along the growth trajectory, education comes into play — quite early actually. The infant brain is constantly learning about his or her environment: what pleases, what meets with disapproval, learning words and sentences, communicating our wants and needs and emotions, mastering our limited but ever expanding worlds. It’s an exciting thing to behold!
And so it goes through the elementary school years, the teenage years, and beyond. The more we learn and the more we grow in the process, the more new challenges we take on, our growth is unlimited. Even in the latter years of life, we are growing and learning until the day that we die, actually.
But growing up is only half the story of our lives. It’s the “growing down” part that really makes life worth living. The roots that we sink into the soil of life are what nurture the limbs and the leaves above. Show me someone who is living life well, and I will show you someone who has spent ample amounts of time in the underground of life — the place where the soul, if you will, grows. They have journeyed into their own unconscious selves, or they have journeyed through times of acute suffering and loss, or they have both found love and lost love; and yet, they have come through these times all the wiser.
I have learned much in my lifetime in the usual places of learning — school, achieving academic degrees, succeeding at various jobs along the way, traveling, watching TV and movies, reading books, and enjoying interacting with friends and others. But my roots have largely grown deeper when life has taken unexpected and often painful turns that I never saw coming. Or when I have dared to look into my own unconscious, through dreamwork, for example. Our dreams often hold within their mysterious images the stuff of growing deeper and wiser. And this takes some courage at times.
Alcoholics Anonymous has made famous the term “hitting bottom.” It’s that time in a person’s journey when they arrive at the end of their rope. Their lives have literally become “root-less.” All of their own efforts at negotiating life’s challenges have failed, and they find themselves up against a dead end. It is, in that moment, the WORST day of their lives — and it is also the BEST day of their lives. It is the day when that man or woman decides to go about the task of growing deeper roots: in their relationship with God, developing compassion for others, and building their lives on becoming as self-aware as possible. I have friends who are recovering addicts, and they are some of the deepest people I know — they have failed big time! But they also have mighty big and deep souls that bring light and life to everyone they encounter.
So, I say, in this infancy period of 2017 — bring me plenty of the good things of life! Bring me light and love, good food, good friends, and money sufficient to my needs. But also, bring on the challenges — even bring on the pain and sorrow — for these are the things that serve as rich compost for the soul. And bring on the experiences that deepen my connection with others who are growing and hurting and succeeding in this thing we call life. For it is only as we are growing downward that we can effectively reach for the sun and the stars.