Learning Requires Destruction

Before I had my daughter, I’d daydream about showing her the green world. I couldn’t wait to teach her how to smell snowdrops or touch the lilacs so their petals fell like rain. I wanted to introduce her to the world of wonders that is the moss, the leaves, the earth.
So I was excited when spring finally came after her birth and she was old enough to explore the world around her.
It was a particularly beautiful day, the fresh green leaves budding out tender as wings, when I took her in my arms to show her the garden.
“Look,” I pointed to the delicate pink azalea flowers. “Aren’t they beautiful?” 
With wonder in her eyes, she reached out with the unfurling bud of her hand…and shredded the flower to pieces. 
“Oh!” I exclaimed. “Okay, let’s try this tendril of Solomon’s seal. Aren’t they just wondrous?” She smiled, reaching out to snap the stalk in half.
“Oh dear” I sighed. 
The rest of our first excursion went like this. I would show her something beautiful and precious in the natural world and she, in her attempt to understand it, would destroy it. 
It pained me to watch her strip the laurel of its leaves, rip the moss off the rocks, and crush every flower in sight. I remember reaching out with my heart to the Earth, apologizing for all the destruction.
But as I apologized, I could hear the world gently laughing. A voice, benevolent as mist after a summer rain, rose from the Earth and said simply, in reply— “All learning requires destruction.”
And I realized immediately, it was true

It hurts to see the mess that we humans are making in the world, just as it hurts to look at our own lives when things are falling apart. 

But watching a child meet the world for the first time, learning profound volumes with each encounter, I’m reminded that, at its heart, all learning requires destruction. 

The destruction of an old belief or way of thinking. The dissolution of a relationship, a career path, or the patterns that used to run our lives. 

For a new way to be built, new synapses to be formed, new pathways to be created, the old ones need to be deconstructed, pruned, let go.

I remind myself of this when I feel like, once again, my life is a jumble. When I’m not sleeping, or I have a meltdown in the middle of making dinner, or the starts I set out in the garden are cropped down by the deer.

Learning requires destruction…and what if that isn’t a bad thing? 

I remember reading once about an excavation of a Paleolithic cave site. Around the central hearth there was evidence of cooking and mending and expert flintknapping…and then there was a whole corner where it looked as if all kinds of stone had just been broken, for the fun of it. Likely, the archeologists hypothesized, this was where the kids were hanging out, learning the skills they needed to survive by, well, breaking stuff. 

And so, it has always been this way. The young parts of ourselves will always need to take things apart, including our own lives, to learn what our souls came here to discover.

I hold this awareness close as I look at the mess I sometimes make of my own life or as I gaze with an aching heart at the world.

Human beings, still so new on the scene—children, really, in the grand scheme of evolution—are just figuring things out.

We aren’t inherently bad, we aren’t innately destructive—we’re learning.

And just like how I continue to love my daughter no matter how many tulips she beheads in the garden, so too are we loved. Loved without judgement, without condition. Held in compassionate understanding by this Earth as we uncover what we came here to understand.

Human children are incredibly labor intensive. They aren’t fully mature until, arguably, well into their twenties. It takes a monumental effort of teaching, patience, and endurance until children are ready to take their magnificent place in the world and give their gifts to this planet.
Humans, as a species, are the same. We’re finicky, sensitive, and require a lot of energy— but the Earth is willing to invest in our learning because She understands that learning takes time. And that the magnificence of what we can bring to this planet, to this time of such great transformation and healing, is worth it.
So if you’re having a moment of feeling things come apart at the seams—in your life or in the world—remind yourself: Learning requires destruction, and that’s a good thing. 
The old patterns are dissolving, and the other side is a future of wellbeing and healing beyond our imagining.

P.S. Want more writings on motherhood? Check out my Substack Mothering Depth. I post every week about the journey of parenthood: crust, crumbs, the cosmos, beheaded flowers, beauty and everything in-between.