It might seem counterintuitive, but wilting can be a great strategy for long-term growth.
A friend recently told me a story about the flowers in her garden. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. It was very early spring and some warm weather had the hellebores and snowdrops blooming cheerfully. But a few days of frost appeared to have killed them: They wilted and turned gray. She mourned the little flowers, but a few days later the sun returned and warmed the earth again—and those very same flowers popped back to life, returning to their color. They hadn’t died during that frost but had merely wilted for a while.
When to Wilt
When we are in the kind of struggle where we can’t see the way out yet, or where things feel insurmountable, we sometimes have a tendency to do things like focus on gratitude and optimism to try to keep our chins up and keep going. There is wisdom in that, of course—optimism and positive thinking can have very powerful effects in our world. But that kind of energy isn’t always the medicine we need in a difficult time. Sometimes we need to wilt.
[Read: “Tarot for Dark Days: Strength and the Wilt.”]
The reason those flowers were able to come back to life is because they wilted. They drew into themselves. They redirected their energies away from looking outward and making themselves pretty for the bees. They needed to allow themselves to be ugly, to appear to be dead, in order to conserve their energy for when the winds shifted again.
We can have a really hard time with pausing, with taking time to rest. We always want to be doing something, including when the thing we are trying to do is heal ourselves. But there’s something so beautiful and powerful about wilting. About letting ourselves be tired or sad. About withdrawing for a little while so we can redirect our energies to what needs attention on the inside before we can do whatever it is that’s needed in the outside world.
Of course, we do not want to wilt forever. But in order to be beautiful and colorful, to be alive and vibrant, we need water and sunshine. We need enough food to eat, a safe environment to live in, enough sleep, and healthy connections to loved ones and community. When the world feels unsafe or when we do not have access to these needs, it can be incredibly wise to withdraw into ourselves and take some time to rest.
Ways to Wilt
What might it look like for us non-flowers to wilt? First and foremost, it can mean giving ourselves full permission to feel exactly how we feel. If we are sad, confused, angry, lost, or numb, we can be those things. Rather than trying to change them or get out of it, we can let them run their course. Here are some other ways to wilt:
- Rest. This might mean canceling non-essential appointments so that you can stay close to home, take naps, watch TV, and do whatever activities allow your nervous system to calm and slow down. Sleep more if you can—go to bed earlier or wake up later.
- Eat nourishing foods that are easy to digest. Generally this means comforting, cooked foods.
- Find attention and affection from safe people if you can. Ask for more hugs, if there’s a safe person to hug in your life and doing so helps you feel good. If not, connect with others over the phone or Zoom. You might consider getting some bodywork that you like, such as massage or acupuncture, to help take care of yourself.
- Take a break from the news in a way that feels good for you.
- Consume media that calms your body down, whether that’s comedies, kids’ movies, the crossword, or fantasy novels.
Take your time to rebuild and replenish your energy in the ways that help you. Trust that when things shift in a way that allows you to find your energy again, you will be able to bloom again.
Don’t know what to do? Here are five ways to navigate liminal space.