by Jennifer Newton Martin, LPC
Last year I bought a tiny Orchid at the grocery store because the blooms caught my eye. They were lovely white with bright fuchsia centers. Although I knew that Orchids are among the more difficult plants to keep alive, I felt that I was up to the task of trying my hand at Orchid growing. For several weeks my Orchid bloomed happily in the kitchen window, but after that the blooms and the stem dried up. Ever since then I have had a plant with no flowers.
What an Orchid Requires to Grow
A couple of weeks ago I started noticing five or ten little tendrils growing out of the pot right over the root ball. I started wondering when I could expect my tiny Orchid to bloom for me and what exactly an Orchid’s lifecycle involved. I decided to do a little research on Google and quickly became fascinated by the intricate requirement of an Orchid to bloom. It came as a surprise to me that Orchids are actually epiphytes. Epiphytes generally grow on other plants. Orchids don’t hurt the other plants though, as they mostly absorb nutrients from the air, water, and debris around them. Orchids also tend to bloom only once a year and only with the right conditions.
The right conditions for an Orchid to bloom are apparently extensive, which is why they are known as the “difficult to keep alive” houseplant. Orchids need water, but not much. They like to be misted rather than soaked. Orchids like to be well drained and planted in small containers. They like a certain mixture of ingredients, not just any old dirt. Using tap water to water Orchids could damage them if it has too much chlorine and cutting off dead stems with unsterile scissors could introduce disease-causing organisms. Likewise, Orchids like light: diffuse and bright. However, Orchids don’t like too much light or too much heat. This could cause the plant to die. The most interesting fact I learned about the Orchid, and the reason that many Orchids fail to bloom, is that the Orchid requires a regular nightly temperature drop in order to bloom. Because house temperatures tend to be regulated and not have large temperature swings, the conditions often don’t trigger an Orchid to bloom. Some recommend that the Orchid be put in the dark or in the cold for a time in order to stimulate blooming.
What an Orchid Teaches about Resiliency
In addition to learning ways to help my tiny Orchid bloom again, I also started thinking a lot about Orchids and people. If there is a lesson to be learned from growing Orchids, it might be that having regulated lives with perfect and stable conditions might just keep us from blooming. Most of us dislike being uncomfortable and so we make a lot of choices that are aimed at keeping our lives as comfortable and consistent as possible. Yet, research shows that resiliency is one of the primary factors that enables growth to occur in individuals despite hardship or adversity. Like a muscle, the more we work on our ability to be resilient the more
“Research shows that resiliency is one of the primary factors that enables growth to occur in individuals despite hardship or adversity. Like a muscle, the more we work on our ability to be resilient the more we grow.”
we grow. Just like an Orchid growing in unfavorable conditions- too much light or not enough light, too much water or not enough water, too big of a container or not a big enough container- we humans can also fail to bloom due to unfavorable conditions.
One research article I read defined resilience as the development of competence despite severe or pervasive adversity. Another defined resilience as the capacity of a system to adapt successfully to significant challenges that threaten its function, viability, or development. Whichever way you define it, one search on Google Scholar for research on resilience will bring up a variety of studies that have been conducted on the impact of resilience on individuals, families, organizations, and communities. The idea of resilience, and the ability each of us has to benefit from less than desirable conditions, is well documented.
Fostering Resiliency for Growth
I think that most of us would say that we are living in less than ideal conditions. Many of us survived less than ideal childhoods and have been planted in less than ideal situations, communities, or systems. In our lives we have too much or not enough of something, whether that be money, connection, intimacy, or safety. Whatever conditions that you find yourself in, and whatever conditions you find yourself striving to survive despite of, the research is clear: resilience is something to be fostered and prized in life. Like my tiny Orchid, the time spent without blooms, the time spent achieving new growth and sending out tendrils into the world to absorb more of what we need, is not wasted time. All of the work done in these less than ideal conditions may just result in your most glorious bloom yet.
To read more about fostering resilience in your life and embracing your story, see Naming the Catalyst.