waits in the seed of you
against a future sky?
– David Whyte
This is Part 2 of a five-part blog series I am using to explore how gifted adults can harness their developmental potential by uniting their inner nature with outer nature. I initially introduced several of the ideas I discuss in this series in an article I wrote for the journal, Advanced Development.
In the first post, I briefly introduced Kazimierz Dąbrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration (TBD) as a model for conceptualizing gifted adult development.
In this second post, I argue that gifted adults can look to outer nature for personal(ity) development inspiration.
In Parts 3 through 5 of this series, I will present three more unique ways that gifted adults can unite their inner nature with outer nature—and how these connections can cultivate their personality development.
I hope you find this series meaningful and useful!
In his acorn theory, archetypal psychologist James Hillman proposes that each life is formed by a particular image, an image that is the essence of that life and calls it to a destiny, just as a mighty oak’s destiny is written in the tiny acorn.
Each life is formed by its unique image…As the force of fate, this image acts as a personal daimon, an accompanying guide who remembers your calling.
The daimon motivates. It protects. It invents and persists with stubborn fidelity. It resists compromising reasonableness and often forces deviance and oddity upon its keeper, especially when neglected or opposed. It offers comfort and can pull you into its shell, but it cannot abide innocence. It can make the body ill. It is out of step with time, finding all sorts of faults, gaps, and knots in the flow of life—and it prefers them. It has affinities with myth, since it is itself a mythical being and thinks in mythical patterns.
It has much to do with…restlessness of the heart, its impatience, its dissatisfaction, its yearning. It needs its share of beauty. It wants to be seen, witnessed, accorded recognition, particularly by the person who is its caretaker (p. 39).
The acorn theory is similar to Jung’s idea of individuation and also, in ways, resonates with Dąbrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD).
For example, the TPD’s third factor—that strong internal drive to express one’s true essence and live from one’s higher self—bears semblance to the acorn theory’s soul image which (incessantly) calls and pushes a person to their particular destiny.
The notion of entelechy—a trait that Deirdre Lovecky (1986) suggests is common amongst gifted adults—also resonates with the acorn theory. From the Greek word for having a goal, entelechy is a particular type of motivation, inner strength, and vital force directing life and growth to become all the self is capable of being.
Fraught with difficulty
As noted in the first post in this series, the TPD holds that the personal(ity) development process is necessarily fraught with difficulty. Dąbrowski (2015):
“Personality development, especially accelerated development, cannot be realized without manifest nervousness and psychoneurosis. It is in this way that such experiences as inner conflict, sadness, anxiety, obsession, depression, and psychic tension all cooperate in the production of humanistic development” (p. iv).
Daniels and Piechowski (2009) describe the difficulty differently:
“The search for self-knowledge entails inner struggles, doubts, and even despair about one’s emotional, psychological, and spiritual shortcomings, and yet it always leads back again to the process of gaining greater understanding of others, ridding oneself of prejudices, and becoming more self determined in achieving one’s inner ideal” (p. 16).
Like advanced personal(ity) development, a small acorn’s journey to mature oak-hood is also inherently arduous. Among other obstacles, an acorn must:
- break out of its shell and send a tap root down into the earth in search of nourishment and support;
- regularly cooperate and compete with other plants and organisms for sunlight, water, and nutrients;
- cope with unpredictable environmental stressors such as disease, drought, and fire;
- go through many seasonal cycles of death and renewal; and,
—all of this before it is even capable of fulfilling its particular destiny: passing life on through next generation acorns.
There are many ways that gifted adults can look to outer nature for personal(ity) development inspiration. I present several possibilities below:
First, recognizing that it takes a tiny acorn many years and much difficulty to transform into a mature mighty oak can provide much solace to an individual struggling to grow authentically amidst inner doubts and anxieties and outer obstacles and stressors. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words are often true: “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
Second, for the individual in the throes of positive disintegration, knowing that their destiny is planted firmly within their soul may provide the perspective shift and resilience needed to keep forging ahead on their developmental journey—even when things feel like they are falling apart.
Third, just as an oak tree does not compare itself to other trees, a person can remember that social comparison is not necessary, nor often helpful, to their developmental quest. While humans share many characteristics, and can support each other in numerous ways, each individual’s personality shaping process is idiosyncratic.
Fourth, just like an nascent oak needs structural support, water, nutrients and sunshine to grow into a mighty oak, a person can recognize their need for developmental nurturance. For example, a person can ask:
- Am I getting enough sunshine (literally and metaphorically)?
- Am I living from my core values?
- Am I meeting my bodily needs and managing my overexcitabilities?
- Am I reaching out for, receiving, and giving, appropriate social support?
Fifth, while outer ecology shapes developmental health (e.g., family, friends, neighbourhood, society, ecosystem, bioregion, and planet), a person can appreciate that advanced personality development, in turn, contributes to ecological health. Each person’s inner nature contributes something vital to the wider web of life. Our planetary tapestry is not complete without each organism’s unique, important contribution.
Finally, nature reminds us that all development—including personality advancement—is seasonal. Life includes periods of intense growth and (seeming) fallow. To grow sustainably, an individual must make time for both forward movement and rest, while recognizing at all times that “this too shall pass.”
Stay tuned for the next post in this series where I will be exploring the connection between nature and relaxation!
Dabrowski, K. (2015). Personality shaping through positive disintegration. San Francisco, CA: Red Pill Press.
Daniels, S., & Piechowski, M. M. (2009). Overexcitability, sensitivity, and the developmental potential of the gifted. In S. Daniels & M. M. Piechowski (Eds.), Living with intensity (pp. 3–18). Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.
Hillman, J. (1996). The soul’s code: In search of character and calling. New York, NY: Random House.
Lovecky, D. V. (1986). Can you hear the flowers singing? Issues for gifted adults. Journal of Counseling & Development, 64, 572–575.