Blog by Valerie
Like all natural beings, each of us has a unique nature. The word “symbiosis” comes from two Greek roots: to live + together. Biology recognises six types of relationships, but I see the following three:
- Mutualism (& Commensalism & Neutralism) – mutual benefit (though it may not be clear how)
- bees pollinating flowers
- algae & fungus forming lichen
- mammals eating fruit and dispersing seeds
- a squirrel living in a hole in a tree
- a bird hunting for insects while a hog digs up the ground
- Parasitism – one benefits, one is harmed
- kudzu grows up a tree, blocking its light and knocking it down
- a mosquito, tick, leech or tapeworm takes blood from its host
- Competition (& Predation) – one benefits, one faces loss (or death)
- male gorillas fighting for dominance
- a cat killing a mouse
(Image: Some of you may recognise our former cat Marigold and question whether pet cats are mutualism-based relationships.)
Relationships nourish us, or not. Sometimes our relationships are based in part on shame. Through trauma-bonding in childhood we may have learned to associate nourishment with aspects of parasitism or competition. It took a long time for me to leave parasitic and predatory relationships involving members of my family of origin, as I kept working to transform them into mutualism ones, and it didn’t work. Sometimes our natures do not align for mutualism relationships. We’re all familiar with stories of someone who had “pet” bear, or snake, or wildcat that turned on them one day. I’m reminded of the Aesop fable of the frog and the scorpion:
We tend to place value judgments on the categories, but there’s nothing wrong with the nature of a scorpion needing to sting. We have these types of relationships in our lives, and through knowing our nature and being strengths-based and having healthy boundaries, we create conditions where we’re more likely to flourish. For example, I’m not competitive by nature, but occasionally I get caught up wanting to be right. This is a sign that I am not accepting myself, that I am in shame/judgment/punishment and am attempting to prove my worth and fight for my right to survive in that context. It is either an area of transformation, or a place to protect myself from and avoid as it is not healthy space for me. Parasitic relationships I can tolerate in small amounts and need to avoid on a larger scale. It’s one thing for a mosquito to take a drop of blood now and then; it’s another for twenty mosquitoes to be taking blood at once. (It’s one thing for a co-worker to ask you to listen to a sob story once a week, and another thing to be married to someone who plays a victim every day for months on end.)
Exercise: Think about some important relationships and contexts in your life. What nourishes you spiritually? emotionally? psychologically? physically? What do you see as your nature (it may change in different contexts), and how do you accept it?
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2 thoughts on “Nourishment”
I enjoyed this one a lot. I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of power in these dynamics, and how looking at this can help us find peace.
For example, even within a competitive struggle where on face value one gorilla is challenging another gorilla because they both lack the physical power to procreate without “winning the mate”, they still could have a deeper sense of power that transcends that physical struggle, thereby setting a different existential tone. It’s almost like any organism can exist in these three all at the same time in different ways, and in this way there can be a sense of peace and balance.
I was thinking about the above example of “competition” in contrast to the human sense of a “power struggle”. To want to take power from another means to live in lack of power. And so sure there is the physical power struggle which could be part of the nature of any situation, but that need not be the whole experience.
Someone who was seriously assaulted by another can recognise that in that moment they had their physical power taken away from them by another being living in lack (either through competition or parasitic forces), but also see that they now have power, and have always had power on a deeper level, and that on some level the “offender” in the situation may have been lacking power on a deeper level that cannot possibly be satisfied in those physical means.
Perhaps a failure to see these different power dynamics within that triad is why “power struggle” seems to dominate so much of our dialogues. The “victims” seek to get their power back through yet more struggle when perhaps there is an opportunity for mutualism right there waiting, with its seemingly healing qualities.
I think sometimes we forget our power to say no, to walk away, and to accept painful lessons with compassion and grace.