Reflections on Orchids, Life and Aging

Orchid flowers are beautiful for having a sophisticated simplicity.  I enjoy gardening, but as I live in a canal house in Amsterdam, I cultivate some small trees in the roof terrace and flowers inside the house. This year one my orchids blossomed in early March and exhibited three beautiful stems of flowers until two weeks ago.

After all these months of daily beauty appreciation, I got used to it and thought it would last forever. Then, flowers started slowly wrinkling, aging and falling down. I followed the fall of each of them and photographed, as to immortalize it. I was sad to see it ending.

Well, you may find this very silly, but I call my all plants my daughters and care a lot for them. Traveling involve arranging someone to take care of them, as much as you may do with your kids and pets.

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Well, during this decay and ‘closure’ process, I started reflecting on our perceptions about the aging of the orchid, relative to our own, as humans.

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There is so much beauty in aging. If we are open to see it. Accept it. Enjoy it.

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What seems different, is indeed different. We are never the same we were yesterday. We get better, improved, clearer. And the best of us starts to show and shine.

We go through life cycles, as teens, mid-life, etc. and each one of these offers the so-called ‘life crisis’. Each person experiences each phase in a very unique way. It will depend on how much we have invested in self-awareness and self-development. The more we know about ourselves, the least we will worry about all intrinsic consequences of change, and rather accept life’s opposite face, death, and its temporary and ephemeral nature.

Some call it wisdom and strive a whole life to achieve that.

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I am reading the book ‘Happiness, a guide to developing life’s most important skill‘, from Matthieu Ricard, a Frenchman who had a promising career in cellular genetics, before leaving to Tibet to study Buddhism and become a Buddhist monk.

It is by far the best book I have ever read. And why? Not only because of the immersion on the Buddhist perspective, but because of its compelling, simple and universal message on what causes our sufferings of the mind, namely frustration, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, etc.

We make a limited assumption that our happiness depends more on outside circumstances than on the knowledge, development and control of our minds.

We spend time to become intellectually and physically knowledgeable, healthier and fitter. What is the use of it, if we don’t know much about ourselves, and don’t invest in self-knowledge? When we don’t, we become blind to the sources of our negative emotions, and the effect it has on our behaviors and on others. We will see more good or fault on others, instead on ourselves, and we will not see our inner beauty anymore, but live in an endless search for more, and outside ourselves. As the author says, we will be running in a ‘hedonistic treadmill’.

Every single day counts. Life is temporary and we should not waste it. Why not invest in making each day the best it can be? The only way is to look inwards. There, we can find our essence. And no matter how old we are or will be, we will carry it with us, shining, peacefully, beautifully.

I am not a Buddhist, and no one needs to be, to know oneself. But if we are to be happy, age graciously, and be remembered as having had a worthy life, we will need more than just being healthy, beautiful and cultured.

33 thoughts on “Reflections on Orchids, Life and Aging

  1. A very thought provoking post Lucile. Orchids are my favourite flower. I agree life is short, each moment counts and we need to nurture ourselves so that we can be there for others and live a full life. Otherwise when we wilt we will regret all we have not done. I’ve never been happier and more contented and yet I am not in the first flush of youth. I’m a late blossomer and hope like a good wine I will age well!

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  2. I agree with a lot of this . . . but I note that people come to this realization often late in life. When we are younger, we strive for what society values as opposed to what we may value, and in that we often have little choice.

    Buddhist monks may preach the letting go of material things, but they rely on the lay community for donations (alms). That’s the same for most people who preach inner peace and oneness and letting go of material things . . . someone else pays their bills.

    And that’s the crux . . . few people have the luxury of introspection and finding themselves. Richard must have had both the means and opportunity to pursue the path he did. Also, did he leave anyone behind?

    Take many on the island of Hawaii where I live, who need two jobs just to afford a home and raising a family. How would that work out if one of the parents left to go find themselves?

    And, that’s the other thing. People who have kids shift their focus away from themselves at least until the kids have grown and left, but often not even then. Only later, when they have the means and time, might they contemplate the nature of who they are as persons and what self-fulfillment might mean.

    And yes, societal and familial obligations do not necessitate ignoring to know oneself, but they do shape who we are and in that regard constantly change us, making it difficult to anchor on who and what we are or should be. Ten years ago my desires and interests were not what they were twenty years ago and not what they are now. I can’t look ahead ten years from now and guess what kind of person I will be, what I will value, what will direct my actions. Having someone tell me in my twenties what would be important to me in my sixties would be (and was) of no practical help to my development into the person I am now.

    I maintained — and mantain — general traits related to honesty, friendship, honor, duty, etc. so in that regard, I might argue I already “knew” who I was and what was important but that still leaves a very large spectrum as far as individuality goes when it comes to interacting in society . . . unless one wishes to completely let go of all responsibilities to loved ones, friends, and society in general and solely concentrate on the enhancement of one’s spiritual self (what the buddha did).

    I mean, it’s a no-brainer . . . most of the problems in our lives are associated due to interactions with —
    or the actions of — other people. Get away from people and nearly all the frustrations of life disappear.

    How, then, is that different from the enhancement of the physical self? What makes one better than the other? After all, they both amount to no more than selfish pursuits of a selfish goal.

    Is it really necessary or useful to “find” or “know” oneself? What if there’s nothing to find, nothing to know other than what we “make up” for ourselves? That’s a plausible question as we learn more about how the brain works and what consciousness might be.

    Might not, then, the better goal be to live to ideals one values?

    Oops . . . longwinded again. Just letting my mind wander. No need to respond; I just bring this up for consideration.

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    • Thank you very much for your insightful and excellent comment. I truly appreciated what you did.
      When writing and even pushing the publish button, I am still thinking, and wishing the readers join me in the reflection.
      You made very many good points, and each person make see it differently, but it is not about debating, as you pointed out, it is about letting the mind wander.
      It is about thinking together, and keep the reflection going, so I will add some of reactions to your thoughts, when looking at it from another viewpoint. Id would be curious to hear what you think of it.

      1. Letting go of material things and being spiritual, are not a requisite to introspection.

      My take is that you may have mixed two things, namely, following a spiritual path and knowing oneself, although the first demands the latter. Additionally, to become a Buddhist monk may require to let go of material things, but to know oneself, one doesn’t need to become a Buddhist monk. I know people who follow Buddhism and lead a normal life, with the exception that they are not into consumerism, and are addicted to ‘having’ it all (what they don’t need). By the way, the author also works, makes money writing books, and donates it to those who need it. He left his parents behind, as he was still young. I understood that the monks who go abroad as keynote speakers, teachers, etc. don’t do it for free and revert the money to foundations which help the needy.

      Again, I believe that I don’t need to go to Tibet and stay there for the rest of my life, meditating the whole day, to be able to know who I am.
      I can do that right here, and can continue my life’s activities as they are.

      We, westerners are wired as you described, and indeed tend to attribute more value to what the society asks from us than to look for answers inside ourselves. That is what I am talking about. Knowing myself better, allows me to separate me from society’s expectations, and to make better life’s choices. I may still follow what is expected but I cannot blame anyone for that. I totally agree with you though, that we tend to reach these conclusions later in our lives, and as youngsters we don’t listen to much advice from parents. This has to to do with education as well. I believe that parents that cultivate a different style, will somehow influence their kids to be less outwards focused.

      2. Most of the problems in our lives are associated due to interactions with – or the actions of – other people, but we have the choice on how we will react to it.

      We are not prisoners of their reactions. As hard as it can be, we may decide to walk away from our sense of self-importance and pride (the so called ego), and avoid tension, frustration, conflict. I am obviously not talking about violence, aggression, abuse, etc. but about the day-to-day tensions we experience at work, with friends and family, and moreover, the ambiguous pressures we suffer from society. We always have a choice.

      What I have learned so far in my life experience is, that the least I cared about understanding my reactions (that comes from introspection) the more I blamed others for the outcomes, and became a prisoner of my automatic reactions to whatever looked like the same. A very efficient defense mechanism but a creator of conflicts. This happens if I keep believing in what I ‘make up for my self’, instead of daring to go a little deeper in understanding my true values and worth. It is not an easy path, I guarantee you, and I still make mistakes, but at least I am getting better at recognizing my behavior patterns, and sometimes, better at stopping myself before jumping to strong conclusions. Apologies if I my reply looks like that.

      Many thanks for your considerate reply. I truly enjoyed reading it and rethinking my own views. I trust all other readers appreciated it too.

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      • I guess my hangup is with the association to a religion anchored in mystical beliefs. Removing the mystical bit, just being mindful of our actions and the constant evaluation of them is sufficient (if one is willing to judge oneself).

        Anyway, thanks for the response, and I think we’re pretty close in our understanding and implementation of the process.

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        • I get your point and fully agree with it.
          Thanks for that, as It made me realize that I should have been more specific and remove any association of my conclusions with Buddhism. It was a trigger to my thinking but not the anchor. I don’t even know enough of it to make such links.
          Thanks much for the conversation. Much appreciated.

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  3. Lovely softly interpreted orchids. Lucile, we share a reverence for nature and its abundance of gifts. And personal introspection is a jewel we give ourselves. It takes patience and work. It’s not for the faint of heart.

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    • Hello Sally, great to see you here. Thank you for the thoughtful words! You are right about our common reverence for nature and about personal introspection. It is tremendous hard work and a lifelong practice. Have a lovely week.

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  4. Always a pleasure to see your thought-provoking posts and beautiful photos! Wonderful metaphor for our lives, Lucile, the orchids’ short but vibrant lives. In the scheme of the universe, we are but blips on a vast time line, so living life to the fullest with vibrancy at each phase is a must-do for all of us 😀

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  5. Beautiful images Lucile, and and wise words. I am happier and more alive now in my 50s than as a younger woman. I love the way that as plants age, their underlying structures become more visible and we can see how delicate and fine these are. That has been a huge lesson for me, in understanding that power isn’t in mass, but in the careful interplay of many small things.

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  6. Beautiful post, Lucile, and I think I will order the book immediately! I have had an orchid for many years and enjoy its simple beauty. Like or unlike us (depending on our beliefs), it springs to life again and again after its demise, and I always look forward to its return (which, strangely enough, often happens on or near my birthday!)

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    • Thank you so much, Lex. Let me know your impressions about the book. How we connect with a book is a very personal experience as it has to do with what we going through at given moments in our lives, so I’m curious about your opinion.
      You seem to have a magic relationship with orchids and this one loves you!
      What a birthday gift!

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  7. Very thought provoking, Lucile, and wonderful photos of your orchids, to accompany your sentiments.

    “After all these months of daily beauty appreciation, I got used to it and thought it would last forever. Then, flowers started slowly wrinkling, aging and falling down”
    Your remark struck me – that as it is that in our lives, we do tend to look for the beauty around us, and when that fades, or dies, we are inclined to move on, in search of the next beauty that once again captures our attention.

    Looking within ourselves, or even within others to see the inner beauty (not superficial) is something that one seems to appreciate more over time (or with life experience).

    Perhaps it is our own ‘withering’ process that makes us more appreciative and mindful.

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