Let’s talk about forest ecology for a bit.
It’s pretty impressive how similar these two Yosemite Valley photos are even though they were taken more than 150 years apart. However, I do want to point out a few differences - you might need to zoom into the images a bit.
- For the trees in the foreground, it’s pretty clear that there are fewer trees 150 years ago and those that were there had more space between their branches.
- For the rocky slope on the left, there were also far less vegetation present 150 years ago.
- For the trees in the valley, you can see where the tree trunks meet the ground in the older photo.
We’re often taught that more trees and more greens means that we have a healthier ecosystem, but that isn’t always true. In the late 1800s, stringent fire suppression measures were put into place to make sure that beauty of Yosemite would never be burned away. Many decades later, ecologists began to realize that this policy had a counter intuitive impact. By trying to suppress fires for so long, the fires that did occur became bigger and more destructive. By putting out fires at first sight, the forests became very dense making it easier for flames to hop from one tree to another, dead plants accumulated on the forest floor and made the fires hotter, and new trees didn’t have a chance to grow with less sunlight and less heat to free the seeds from the cones. It turns out that forests seen in the 1860s were healthier and more sustainable due to their moderately frequent but smaller fires.
In short though, stopping fires from causing damage was making the forests unhealthy and prevented new growth from occurring.
I think that our experiences as humans are pretty similar as well.
We often go around putting out small fires in our lives because letting them burn makes us uncomfortable - it means our forest is going to change and we naturally resist change. We’re going to lose some of our old self to make room for the new. So, what happens when we keep these small fires from burning? Often times a bigger fire will burn that is too big for us to control. These big fires leave us feeling devastated. The old forest became too large, unsustainable, and had to go. It isn’t all bad though - even with a major loss, you can always find new growth if you look for it as long as you’re open to accepting that it will look different. I would actually say that after these big fires it is most important to search for that new growth in order to find hope again.
I realize that this is a bit abstract, but I was thinking of it in the context of my previous post. My insecurities made my work become my identity and it was pretty unhealthy. A big fire came through and burnt my sense of identity, which made space for a new perspective. It was okay to be a bit insecure, but if I was going to work hard it was going to be because that’s what I decided I wanted to do with my life rather than letting my insecurities control me. There were small fires along the way that told me that I should value myself more, but I didn’t want to deal with those fires because I thought I could get away with ignoring them. It turns out that it was pretty difficult to run away from those smaller problems when they were caused by me in the first place and followed me wherever I went. Taking ownership of the fires in your life is an important step. It’s easy to blame others for this or that, but ownership is really what allows you to grow and learn from difficult experiences at the end of the day.
In a relationship, there are always small fires that pressure us to grow too. Growing makes us uncomfortable because it requires letting part of our old self be destroyed, so we do our best to keep things the same. If we don’t let these small fires burn naturally, then we end up with the devastating fires that causes a lot of pain. This is where the couple either undergo a lot of growth together or end things if one or both aren’t willing to grow. The longer the smaller fires are avoided, the bigger the burn, and the harder it is to see a future where joint growth is possible.
There are endless ways that these small fires in relationships can manifest, but they often revolve around subconsciously not valuing yourself. Maybe you don’t share an honest perspective with your partner because you’re afraid of rejection. Maybe you belittle your partner because you’re afraid to be vulnerable and need them to be on the defensive. Maybe you don’t stand up for your values because you need to be liked. Maybe you try to control your partner because you’re afraid of losing their attention or interest. The closer someone is to you, the more important their validation becomes. Acknowledging these fires and insecurities is how we learn to value ourselves more and grow as a person.
Fires in life destroy part of our old selves and present an opportunity to find new growth and self respect.
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