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Don’t Be A Sunflower

I’m not happy, I’m cheerful. There’s a difference. A happy woman has no cares at all. A cheerful woman has cares but has learned how to deal with them. ~ Beverly Sills

One morning I woke up thinking “be a sunflower”. I have no idea where it came from. I can’t remember any context, just the statement “be a sunflower”. Sound a little goofy? Maybe. But, for me, that’s an opportunity to follow a thread of thought and see where it goes. It piques my curiosity.

I love sunflowers. I love the way they grow and bloom and how their faces follow the arc of the sun in the sky. They signify happiness, warmth, abundance and loyalty. They feel so positive.

Why would we not want to imitate the sunflower!


I started writing this post several weeks ago.  And each time I came back to it, I disagreed with myself. I began to browse books on my shelf; I searched for articles on positivity, positive psychology and Pollyanna. I looked for ideas that substantiated what I thought I’d set out to say: That we should only be looking for the positive in life.

But that wasn’t quite right. It brought to mind the quote by Beverly Sills. Where was the thread? I kept thinking and asking myself questions to help give shape to this amorphous thought that was trying to emerge.

The Shadow Knows

At the same time, I was reading Awakening at Midlife by Kathleen Brehony.  I came to a section called “The Shadow Knows.” “At midlife unconscious, shadow material erupts into our life.” She goes on to say how the emergence of the shadow is an attempt to bring balance to our personality, accepting ourselves as we are, “… coming to love those neglected parts of ourselves as elements of our own authenticity and humanity.”

Okay, now we’re getting closer.

Looking for Balance

I had always strived to be a happy person. If something knocked me down, I would put on my big flouncy Scarlett O’Hara hat, say fiddle dee-dee and leave it for another day. I’d put it in the “long bag we drag behind us”, so aptly described by poet Robert Bly.

Boy, was I out of balance! And, at some point it got to be a lot of work. More than it was worth.

I could see where being a sunflower and only following the light no longer served me. As I followed this train of thought I also realized that I had already done a lot of the work. Coaches, reading and a little bit of therapy had helped. I gave myself a little pat on the back.

Brehony suggests that this distortion is quite normal in our second half of life, when we begin “perhaps for the first time to see the “other”, the parts of ourselves that have long been ignored in favor of who we always thought we were”.

How gratifying to know that it was normal to throw off these old stories at midlife and open up to the parts I’d kept hidden; to attain better balance.

A Need for a Pause

However, that balance is not attained by quick fixes, but rather a Pause where we can explore and experiment with those other parts of ourselves that have been neglected.

That pause is a juicy place that includes light and dark, sun and shadow, clement and inclement weather. It comes bearing gifts for midlife.  It is the first step into a mindful second half of life.

I love sunflowers. But don’t be one. Our journey is rich and complex and the good news is that we do not have to travel alone! Contact me to find out how I might help you pause as you honor all your beautiful parts and create a path back to a whole you.

Please note that this is not intended to replace professional psychological help where needed. If life is okay but you feel there’s more I can help. If you are feeling despair, please seek a skilled therapist.
This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. Kathy,
    I really like that you are reading in your voice. Thank you. It’s very intimate in a way.
    I’m sort of tired of sunflowers, they are too commercial Too happy faced or familiar now, even as they have special meaning for me.
    I wish they didn’t look downward!
    Maybe I’m looking downward !?
    When I divorced and got a tiny apartment , I had planted a few seeds outside my front window and what popped up ,like a magic bean plant outside my window ,was a mini-
    Sunflower plant that had 79 flower heads ! Count them ! We did daily !
    The children would count them
    after school and I had to find a simple prize for counting so many!
    I saved a photo too, it’s somewhere ?
    I’m sitting in my car typing as I listen to your ideas unfold . I’m feeling snarky and I didn’t get the sleep I needed at night because I listened to the disturbing drama of the Cohen
    Congressional hearings far into the early morning . I didn’t get the exercise I intended today, because I’m too logged out from not sleeping .
    However, I did go into the woods and deliver a poem -prayer of those woods , that I copied off a placard
    behind the main building of the Great Swamp outdoor Education Center in Chatham I’m S outhern Blvd . The basic message defends the woods and it is “ harm me not” . I added a sketch of a Canada goose winging over the text of the poem, and I put it on fake parchment and made it a gift today to a place I used to teach and hang out back in the 90’s ! I was thanking the naturalists and the woods and the anonymous muse who wrote the poem. I may have been issuing a warning to my inner woods and have decided to be gentler in all matters .
    Then I was the recipient of a warm, surprise hug , from a man, Doug Voorhes , a naturalist friend from when I volunteered at the Great Swamp back in 1990’s! Another naturalist came out of an office and said “ Welcome home!” I’m older than all of them !
    How did she know that’s what my soul needed to hear precisely ! Mid- life for me is about finding a new “ home” and attending to myself and my body in ways that help me discover who I am now when I’m not connected or surrounded with family or friends, most of my circle have gone or moved away or on !
    Somehow , today at about five o’clock , I had a strong and tangy, somewhat bittersweet , emotional release of my role as mother of my two adult children , a son 39 and a daughter 33,.Both my adult children are married and living out their busy lives .
    Sunday’s are family days and still hard when my singleness feels so lonely . I haven’t seen either of them in ten years and of course I’m holding in resentment and anger and sadness and tears . It’s a tantrum, and underslept is good for the inner critic to feed on !
    I admit I don’t let go of family roles easily . I get attached and have a hard time with too much time. And then there’s that shadow ‘ , yes that low self esteem bag of trash lufting in the wind !
    Right now the sunflower with its lowered face is a perfect symbol of the mixed emotions that mid life is filled with : Middle : Not here or there !
    To be kind to that little sun on a green stalk; I do love sunflower seeds and the subtle geometry of the sunflower ‘s face. Maybe I can just sit with this surly attitude and decide to allow it to be there a little longer , and perhaps it can become a portal into a new way of allowing me to be freer and more who I want to become or already am good enough to be? Maybe this last stab storm of winters heavy handed cold , grey dampness and colder temps are what seeds need do they don’t Bart too soon on cold ground ?
    I found these lines :
    Divinity must live within herself
    Psssions of rain and moods in falling snow
    ,Grievings in loneliness or unsubdued
    Elations when the forest bloom ; gusty
    Emotions on wet roads or autumn nights ;
    All pleasures and all pains, remembering
    The bough of summer and the winter branch.

    I don’t recall the poet who wrote that ? Do you ? Wallace Stevens? Who then ? Google ? but when I’m not living within myself I feel disjointed and very uncomfortable . I’m aware I’m
    Not winter and not spring
    But I’m on my way !

    Linda Howe

    1. Thanks, Linda for taking the time to respond. You are correct! It is Wallace Stevens’ lines. I love that he was able to straddle the business and the creative worlds.

  2. The “long bag we drag behind us” hahaha! I love your affirmation that it’s ‘normal’ to open that old bag and find shadows and un-sunflowery things. It’s ok and we’re ok. And we can change and grow and be who we always wanted to be. We can be real. Woohoo! xoxoxoxo

    1. Yes! Love that we can become who we always wanted to be. We don’t have to stay in the shadows but they can certainly tell us what we need to know.

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