Palm Tree in the Desert

5 min read

One of the blessings I cherish most in my life is having the ability to observe nature unimpeded by the constraints of time.  The similarities between human behavior and those of flora and fauna are many and I suppose this is as it should be given we are a part of the natural world after all.  The simple act of observing nature is to me one of life’s most precious gifts for the lessons I learn are as innumerable as they are invaluable.

A few days ago I observed several palm trees growing close to the edge of the Mediterranean Sea on the Costa Blanca of Spain.  These palms are slowly growing despite their “unnatural” placement; they are growing with the aid of an elaborate albeit somewhat rudimentary maze of hoses devised to give them enough water because they would surely perish without this assistance.

It is an unnatural placement because, you see, the climate here is known as a chaparral climate. (Please note:  just because something is “unnatural” does not mean that it is not supposed to be there – from a Buddhist perspective, if it was not supposed to be there, it would not be there). A chaparral climate is one that is arid with a short rainy season and not too much variation in its mild temperature.  This climate can be found in Southern California, parts of Australia, South Africa and here on the Western Coast of The Mediterranean Sea.

It is an ideal climate for specific types of plants, shrubs, trees and for yours truly.  It is not the ideal climate for the humidity-loving palm tree however in our ever-growing desire to make things “aesthetically perfect,” some of our species have seen fit to plant them here (as well as in many of the other aforementioned chaparral climate zones; not the least of which is Los Angeles whose name alone, as a friend recently reminded me, immediately conjures both mental and Google images of its iconic palm tree-lined streets city but I digress…)

The life-supported palm trees here in Spain and the stark contrast of the neighboring naturally-thriving wildflowers which seemingly spring out of rocks and sand led me to ponder:  are we any different from these trees and plants?  How many of us live “unnaturally” or out of tune with who we actually are?  How many of us survive because we and/or others in our lives work hard to prop us up and give us what we need so that we can live to fight another day?  And how many of us regularly employ a series of diversionary tactics on a daily basis to keep us on our grind in the desert?  (Statistics on the various types of addiction in society can begin to give us an idea…)  And how many of us would flourish, blossom and easily bloom in an environment that was harmonious with who we truly were surrounded by others who shared our ilk?

The Myth of the Mighty Oak

When we were small, many of us were provided with encouragement via catch-phrases like “mighty oaks from little acorns grow” and so we all assumed we’d grow up to be “mighty oaks.”  But what if oaks (or palms in this case) are not native to where we are?  Or, more accurately, what if we never actually were little acorns and were instead the seedlings of another type of tree or flower?

We are conditioned to believe that good things take time and/or hard work, blood, sweat, tears, suffering, sacrifice, etc.  It is now even considered cool to “be on one’s grind” and to “wake up and hustle.” Every institution which exists within our societal structure and indeed the fabric of society itself seems to depend upon our acceptance of the aforementioned ideals.

We are conditioned to believe that if we want to get to Z then we must first go through A-Y.  Logically, getting to Z does require that we achieve A-Y first however, what many of us seem to have forgotten is that our individual Z is actually an unknown variable.  Few of us know what our true path or calling is and if we ourselves don’t know, then how can anyone else possibly prescribe the route for us?

If we buy into the predefined vision of Z and we follow the generally accepted route from point A to B and so on, then we may begin to get an idea around point N, if we’re lucky[1], that the path that we are on is the path for a palm tree in the desert and not for a blossoming wildflower.  However, we may erroneously believe that we need to keep grinding it out because we have already invested so much time, energy and usually money in the journey from point A to N.  And besides, all of the other palm trees are happy – aren’t they?

This is where it gets interesting:  If we accepted our conditioning and believed that we were going to grow up to be  mighty oaks or palm trees and that hard work and challenges were par for the course; and we have been surrounded only by other struggling palm trees – albeit of varying sizes and different degrees of hardship; how can we begin to understand, in the absence of a frame of reference, that we can be thriving wildflowers?  Or in other words, how can we begin to see that life has the potential to be any other way?

Palm Tree or Desert Wildflower?

How do we know if we are palm trees in the desert or beautiful, bountiful desert wildflowers?  We can begin by asking ourselves a straightforward question and responding with complete honesty:  do I feel like I am constantly challenged, have to work hard and/or suffer or do I feel like I cannot fail and good things fall into my lap?

To get to the heart of the matter we must open our minds.  We must also steer clear of comparisons for there is no actual standard; each of us is unique so we are the only standard for ourselves that has ever existed.  Even comparing ourselves to previous versions of ourselves may restrict our field of vision to what is possible.

To answer the question we must look within and cannot use our friends, families, peers, neighbors or colleagues as frames of reference for they too may be palm trees in the same desert and just because we are bigger or stronger does not give us more legitimacy. Nor can we use the Western scorecard for success since it confines us to the boundaries of the desert (house, white-picket fence, car, 2.5 children, etc.) and measures our performance against only a few predefined genus, classes or strata of which we happen to be a part.

If we respond to this question by saying we generally feel challenged then there is a good chance we are a palm tree in the desert.  If we view our life as magical and easy and we are surrounded by our tribe then we are probably already desert wildflowers.

If we identify as a palm tree in the desert this does not mean that we are not where or who we are supposed to be; it simply means that if we open our hearts, minds and eyes and begin choosing the path of least resistance then our natural environment – the one where we are consistently blooming and thriving; the one where we live in accord with our inner truth and where we easily connect with our tribe; the one where we feel we cannot fail; the one where we live from a place of inspiration and not from fear – will unfold and reveal itself clearly to us.

Laziness vs. The Path of Least Resistance

Spoiler alert:  the path of least resistance is not a destination; it is a mode of travel for living our truth.

How do we know the difference between the path of least resistance and laziness?  When we are “working, grinding, hustling” it feels just like that – our bodies, minds and spirits feel stressed, exhausted and depleted and it feels like the odds are stacked against us. We feel as though we have to find motivation or gear up for the day.  Often when we fail to find that motivation or fail to accomplish the duties set out before us, we feel or are told that we are lazy.  In this state, we are akin to the struggling palm tree in the desert.

But what if we accept the notion that there is no such thing as lazy people – only uninspired people? When we are inspired, even if our bodies feel physically tired, our minds and spirits feel alive and invigorated and our energy levels are generally high.  When we use the path of least resistance to live our truth, amazing things simply unfold and present themselves to us; people and signs light up and hurdles cease to exist.  We become thriving desert wildflowers!

There is nothing wrong with being a struggling palm tree because if we were supposed to be anyplace else then we would not currently be here in the desert.  But if we are tired of the struggle then all we have to do is simply give up the fight by letting go of who we think we are supposed to be.  When we follow the path of least resistance then the light of inspiration guides us and enables us to utilize our desert palm tree struggles as wisdom-enriched fertilizer so that we can blossom into the thriving wildflowers that we truly are.

[1] Many of us actually know a lot sooner, perhaps as early as point C but lack the confidence and/or support to take another path


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