Azaleas

Flame Azaleas in my front yard

When is the last time that you changed your mind about something?

I don’t mean something trivial like changing your order at a restaurant or changing an outfit to better reflect your mood.

I mean changing your mind about something you believe to be true, something that goes deeper than the surface.

For me, my most recent change of mind had to do with azaleas. I realize that may sound weird or insignificant, but hear me out.

For as long as I can remember, I have never liked azaleas. As a child growing up in Tennessee, we had a few azalea bushes outside my home. They were the standard pink variety you see all over the place, and for some reason I disliked them intensely. 

Even when healthy and watered, the azaleas always looked dry and thirsty to me. And they seemed to be perpetually faded, even in full bloom. 

What made it worse was that those azaleas seemed to me like they had the capacity to be beautiful, but they always fell short. They just could never seem to meet their full flower potential. It would not be an exaggeration to say those azaleas made me sad, and at times even angry.

So I developed a personal “truth” that I held onto deeply: I hate azaleas.

Now if I was going to psychoanalyze why a flower elicited such strong feelings in me as a kid, I might venture to say that I saw myself in these azaleas. Never quite hitting the mark, quenching my thirst, or achieving a bright enough bloom.

But maybe that isn’t the case at all. Maybe I just really did not like them.

Recently, however, I completely changed my mind about azaleas.

When my family and I left New York City two years ago, we moved into a home previously owned by an avid gardener who had planted a large azalea bush right in the middle of the front yard.

When we moved into our new home, it was winter, and nothing was in bloom. I couldn’t even tell that the bush was an azalea until months later into spring.

As it slowly started to bud, I noticed that it seemed different from the azaleas of my youth. It was robust in a way that the ones I grew up with were not.

And when it blossomed? I was completely and utterly blown away by its beauty.

It blossomed with the brightest orange flowers I have ever seen. Before that, I didn’t even know that azaleas came in orange. That bush was the opposite of anything I had ever perceived as “azalea.”

I now know that it is a variety called a “flame azalea,” which is the perfect description. It is like fire hovering over a bed of bright green.

But why does any of this matter? It’s just a plant after all. And people’s tastes always change over time.

But this was different. 

Something I had always thought of as ugly was suddenly beautiful.

Something I had grown up despising was now something that I loved.

I had changed my mind about azaleas.

Changing your mind about long held beliefs is never an easy task nor is it a quick one.

I would venture a guess that many of us live out our entire adult lives without actually changing our minds about anything substantial. 

Many of us live in a fixed state of mind in terms of our strongly held beliefs. And sometimes that’s not entirely a bad thing. It can keep us from being pulled off-center or losing our integrity. It gives us something concrete to hold onto. 

But if it is not kept in check, it also holds us back from our own growth and self-development. Changing your mind about significant things feels too scary, like becoming untethered to something that was always there before. Like being wrong or admitting defeat. Like leaving the safety of the old for the precariousness of something new.

Of course we need to be strong in our beliefs, but we also need to be flexible.

Having the courage to change your mind about something is a skill that requires both these qualities: strength and flexibility.

In yoga, we are perpetually trying to balance strength and flexibility. In each pose, we try to stay both strong and soft simultaneously. We ground down into the floor as much as we reach for the sky. We try to keep a strong and focused mind as well as a soft and open one. We try to balance making the practice happen with letting it happen. 

And the more we practice doing this, it seeps into our daily lives. We can see what is around us with eyes that are present, not just stuck in mental patterns we developed in our past.

We can see beauty where we always thought it was lacking. 

We can be open to new ideas that propel us into becoming more and more ourselves each day.

Perhaps most importantly, we can allow ourselves the capacity to change, unafraid of losing ourselves along the way.

Changing your mind is powerful, and it is humbling.

It definitely is not an easy thing to do.

But it might lead you to incredible things.

You just might discovera type of beauty that you had no inkling of before.

You might even find that something you once hated, you now fiercely love.

What could possibly be better than that?

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