A few of our plants were looking lethargic. Leaves turning yellow.  Could be the rain, too much water. But nope, the top soil was hard. Certainly not the rain. Fertilise, prune, to no avail. Ah…  The plant lifted very easily from the plastic pot.  Too easily.  Could only mean one thing.  The roots had wound itself around so tightly, it was literally choking itself to death.

It seems, all potted plants suffer this same fate.  As Prof LT commented to L when they visited our apartment, we’ve a lot of repotting to do.

Indeed, as L cracked open our terracotta pots and rescued our heliconias and red ginger whose rhizomes  have now grown so huge, the roots were twining itself around the plants like intestines in kway chap.  L divided the rhizomes. Some, he threw away, others he put in new pots.  Gigantic plastic pots.  He has become pragmatic, after cracking open many terracotta pots.  Plastic pots, though ugly, can re-used, and like jelly moulds, easier to slip-off root-bound plants.   Its times like this, when I wish I have a huge garden, to allow the heliconias to stretch their roots and multiply. The heliconia rhizomes are now growing well with new shoots. How resilient they are, able to withstand his cutting and division.

I thought of myself, and my little comfort zone. Sometimes being too comfortable is not a good thing.  How counter-intuitive.  A robust root system, in a comfortable pot, suffocates the very plant it supports.  Much like me, when trying not to take on new things, my self-protective stance may end up suffocating my creativity.  The solution to lethargy and burnout is not necessarily rest, but doing something new.

As 2012 approaches, my plants remind me to stretch forth, increase my area of influence. Like a child, always exploring and learning new things.

Scientists today marvel at the plasticity of the brain, debunking the urban myth that we go downhill from 40 onwards.  According to a Time magazine article dated Aug 2006, on “The surprising power of the aging brain“, brain at midlife doesnt become cranky as we used to believe, but more elastic. While we may not be able to handle more information, we can use it better.  Not all personalities approaches midlife the same way, some calcify and become cranky, others increase their tolerance for ambiguity and ability to handle relationships.   The key, it seems, is the gluey stuff, myelin.

“Be like little children”.  I’m beginning to appreciate this wise Bible saying.

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”
― T.H. WhiteThe Once and Future King

Is it purely learning or that the way out of lethargy is through finding work that has purpose, mastery and some semblance of self-directedness? Hence, Daniel Pink’s animation above.

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