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Cutting Back to Grow

I’ve been thinking about something a new Facebook friend said last week, in our private 10-day video challenge group. She said, about where she is in life right now, that she’s “cutting back, to grow.” I’d never heard that before and I found it so lovely and so very, very true.

Four weeks ago now, I came down with some version of a low-grade flu. Symptoms weren’t knock down/drag out, but just enough to render me totally useless to participating in the world. I didn’t think I could sleep one more hour, but my body told me otherwise every time I approached my pillows. I was quite literally being told to be still...and cut back.

I hated it. Not only because being sick is never a fun time, but also because my good ideas and routines and project momentum were whisked away from me, in lieu of getting better.

I got angry first. Then I lathered up in lots of self pity and shared it (quite generously) with my poor husband. After that, guilt for not achieving or following through on obligations. I bailed on plans with friends, forgot to return calls/texts; didn’t show someone I love how terribly sorry I was for the loss of her dear mother, in the ways I’d wanted to.

It felt awful.

Until I heard that mantra from my new Facebook friend. What was that second part again? Oh right: ‘cut grow.’ Is that the grace in this spiraling disaster? To grow? To “...slow down to the pace of cracks widening”, as Mark Nepo puts it, so that grasses sprout between?

The same day I fell in love with this new mantra, Mike (who is the green thumb in our family), reviewed with me his latest project in our garden: to plant Oleanders along the path beside our house, in place of the poison oak and ivy we’d pulled. He explained the practice of pruning for the sake of shaping a plant and assured me the Oleanders would be a full privacy screen by next year, with a little love -- cutting back to grow.

The fact these two expressions -- from my new friend and from Mike -- happened on the same afternoon was no coincidence; and the message was crystal clear. All of my fighting and pouting and worrying were in vain. My whole being was telling me to be still to get well, and no stubborn foot stomping was going to change that.

So, I cut back. Reluctantly. And though I’m not in the clear yet, after almost four weeks of whatever virus this is, I’m getting there.

Last week, when I reconnected with the world, I saw that my friends still love me and Mike’s patience is still intact, and the projects and ideas are still very much alive in me. I was relieved, and quite honestly surprised to realize I wasn’t left behind or shunned for not participating; while I took time to heal. In fact, I convinced myself I was lazy and delinquent; a martyr, making my situation out to be much bigger than it actually was. My ego reminded me, relentlessly, that I’d wronged people I cared about, and that rest was just an excuse for self care.

Then I remembered the growth part of this little prayer, and it became clear. Cutting back is hard, but it’s sometimes a needed step toward progress and movement and evolution. If taken to heart; if cutting back is honored just for the sake of it -- we come out the other side as tall and expansive as a pruned Oleander.

It’s hard to see, but out of rest comes real growth; sometimes slight and incremental, other times bold and righteous. It’s all worth it.

So grab a warm tea and your book. It’s okay to go back to bed now. You’ll still be beautiful and loved and magically generative once you’ve cut back. Take your time.

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