When Sunflowers Stop Following the Sun

“She’d seen a video of a young sunflower turning its head from east to west to follow the sun and then, in the darkness of the night, eerily ratcheting back to face east. The moment the sun rose, the sunflower was ready.

‘That plant,’ she remembers thinking, ‘seems to know when and where the sun is going to rise.'”

~ Veronique Greenwood, The Atlantic

From an early age, I’ve known that sunflowers turn their heads to follow the sun throughout the day. I remember it was a teacher who saw 7-year-old me looking at a sunflower bloom one afternoon who told me that fact. I didn’t believe it at first, but the next day I returned to the same bloom and saw that sure enough, its head had turned to face the sun.

I was fascinated. How a plant was able to do so—to move as if it knew things—was beyond my level of logic to comprehend at the time. All I knew was that sunflowers were awesome. Almost, magical.

sunflower art

Image via Tumblr

High school came, and I developed a penchant for metaphors (mostly because I had to use them for writing feature pieces for the school paper). Of course, the symbolism of the sunflower didn’t escape me. I wrote about how we should all be sunflowers, always looking to the bright side of things, so we can keep on blooming ourselves. It made for a metaphor that was all at once elegant, charming, and inspiring.

“No flower can lift someone’s spirits quite like sunflowers. They are bright and cheery, and as warm and inviting as the sweet summer sun. With brilliant yellow petals, also known as ‘rays,’ sunflowers have an unmistakable sun-like appearance that has made them a crowd favorite, especially in the summer months.” ~ ProFlowers

sunflower skyseeker

Image by skyseeker via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

In my college years, I stopped writing pieces for publication and was content to write privately in my journals. With neither the pressure nor the stimulus to stir my writing to be positive and inspiring for the public, my writing became darker as it came closer to the truth of who I really was. Because really, with no public to try to impress or keep happy, I was free to write truer to the core of me. I wrote deeper and deeper into me, shadows and all. So when I say I wrote truer to who I was, I also mean I wrote about darker things.

“This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.” ~ William Shakespeare

Suddenly, sunflowers no longer appealed to me. I found their large, bright yellow heads imposing and almost annoying, like oversized smiley emojis too artificial to be part of the natural world. They were too large. Too bright. Too yellow. 

And have I mentioned? Only the young sunflowers track the sun throughout the day. Once they mature, sunflowers stop following the sun.

“Mature sunflowers respond differently to the sun. According to the press release, ‘as overall growth slows down, the circadian clock ensures that the plant reacts more strongly to light early in the morning than in the afternoon or evening, so it gradually stops moving westward during the day.'” ~ Merrit Kennedy, NPR

Then one day, still in college, we had a class activity in which we had to consider a particular color, and then write down the name of the person we associated with that color. I can’t remember what each color represented or what the activity was supposed to help us learn, but I do remember that by the end of it, I was thinking: My classmates do not know me well enough.

Too many of them wrote down my name as the person they associated with yellow. What? I couldn’t believe it. Yellow was cheerful. Yellow was bursting with life. Yellow was young sunflower-y optimism, the kind that moved to always look at the bright side of things. I felt like I wasn’t any of those things. Aand, I wasn’t jaundiced, either.

I didn’t want to accept the association. It felt like a mismatch to who I was, or at least to who I thought I was, to who I felt I appeared to people. I thought I was more old rose. Lackluster and muted, not bright and loud.

But as any teenager struggling to form her identity, I attempted to reconcile that public perception of me with the private self I was discovering at the time. Was I merely so good at pretending to be Ms. Young Sunflower that I had managed to fool the world? Or was I genuinely giving off a cheerful vibe to the people around me, despite the shadows I was beginning to discover within me?

Back then, I didn’t really know how to answer those questions. All I knew was that both sides seemed to hold part of the truth to who I really was. One side alone couldn’t define the entirety of me, but I found it difficult to hold two seemingly opposite concepts of myself simultaneously. I thought only one of them could be the real me; the other had to be a lie or an illusion.

It wasn’t until much later (after further study in psychology and a lot more introspection) that I saw the key to resolving such dissonance. I learned we are each made as much by our darkness as we are by light. Anyone who professes he is made of only light, without a stain of darkness, is either in denial or conveniently deluded indeed. It is only by knowing and accepting our darkness, our shadow, that we can truly know ourselves and be whole.

“To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light. Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self. Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.” ~ Carl Jung, Good and Evil in Analytical Psychology (1959)

Like sunflowers that stop tracking the sun as they mature, we too begin to respond differently to life as we age. We learn to brave more parts of the day with our heads turned away from the sun, because we realize that we can only know who we are if we let the sun shine behind us and allow it to draw our shadow in front of us, so that we may see how we are really shaped

We begin to realize how even darkness has its gifts, and how even if we don’t always bask in the light, we can survive.

And have I mentioned? When sunflowers stop following the sun, they face east. They still know where the sun is going to rise. They wait for it.

No matter how dark the night was, they know the sun’s gonna come up again.

They wait for it.

I think I’m starting to like sunflowers again. ♦

sunflower skyseeker 2

Image by skyseeker via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Happy Easter, everyone.

About the Author •



96 thoughts on “When Sunflowers Stop Following the Sun

  1. An amazing and profound post! It also makes a lot of sense… holds lot of truth… or at least, I understand. There is a lot we don’t comprehend even when we learn more about ourselves and psychology. I still surprise myself or I am surprised by me still. 🙂 I like the whole sunflower reference, for sure.

    I think my friends might consider me yellow but I think I’m more pink or red, whatever they mean. Ha-ha!

    It’s great that you are starting to like sunflowers again.

    Much love and hugs. xxx

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Really insightful. Your use of metaphors really caught my attention. See, i look at this piece and feel like reading it all over again. Every word, carefully pieced together brings out a beautiful article on inspiration and food for thought. Thank you for this piece. You really touched a nerve. I am grateful for stumbling upon it this morning.
    Very good advice, Mistress. Thank you!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I guess there’s something about growing older that allows us to broaden our perspectives, from fixation on things of beauty and light, to an appreciation of the wisdom that can be had through braving the shadows. Lovely to have you over and get a peek into your thoughts on this. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. WHATT!!!! I didn’t know that! hahaha

    “I remember it was a teacher who saw 7-year-old me looking at a sunflower bloom one afternoon who told me that fact. I didn’t believe it at first, but the next day I returned to the same bloom and saw that sure enough, its head had turned to face the sun.”

    I think I know how you felt because I wouldn’t believe it if you have said it to me XD It only took me 19 years longer to find out 😛

    How do sunflowers do this!

    And your writing is so good! I love the way you are able to articulate your thoughts. I’m thinking about joining some club or taking some communication courses to articulate my thoughts more clearly as well. It’s such an important skill to have.

    And it’s been awhile! I’m posting once every two weeks now 🙂 Think that is a good pace for me. Maybe when I can organize my thoughts and write more effectively, I will be able to spend less time in preparation and be able to write new blog posts more frequently 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha! Yeah, sunflowers are awesome that way. If you follow the NPR article linked within the post, it offers an explanation for how sunflowers follow the sun. Has something to do with changes in their stems throughout the day. It’s pretty cool. 🙂

      Thank you for your kind words about my writing, Charles! I think joining a course or a club will be helpful, as you’ll get to be exposed to different writing styles and at the same time get to have other people you can bounce ideas off of. From time to time, fellow bloggers/writers send me some of their written work just for some feedback, and you’re welcome to do the same if you think it’ll help. I’m not a writing expert, but some find it helpful to have another pair of eyes take a look at their work.

      Good to know you’ve got a rhythm going when it comes to posting! Yeah, start with a pace you’re comfortable with. You’ll get the hang of it soon enough. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t fully understand the explanation hahaha But I think I got the gist of it XD The more you read the more you learn 🙂

        Thank you Carla! It will be great to be able to get your feedback on my writing sometime 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello, thank you for your follow. Your raw honesty and voice kept me scrolling on this piece. I learn something, I didn’t know that sunflowers stop following the sun once they mature. Looking forward to read more of your stories. Have a wonderful day. Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

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