Succession Lesson

Ecology may have been the most mindset-changing classes I took in college. An offshoot of biology, ecology teaches us how organisms interact with each other and their physical environment. Basically, how life works outside of our bodies. One of the most inspiring ecological concepts, I found, is succession.

Here’s a quick primer: A community of organisms undergoes a youth to maturity growth development process, much like a person does. In developing ecosystems (ex. abandoned farmland becoming forest), growth and production requires the most energy, and maintenance (respiration) involves a smaller amount of energy. In mature/climax ecosystems (ex. boreal forest), this is reversed- similar to when we start out in our lives, accumulating more new things, and becoming more settled in our homes. As time passes, we have more of our material desires fulfilled so the effort to maintain them (i.e. replace or fix items; consistently organize and sift through) increases.

Primary succession occurs when life develops in a lifeless landscape (ex. a newly exposed sand dune). Secondary succession is the recovery of life after a natural or man-made disturbance (ex. flood, fire). Climax ecosystems reach a level of maturity where they are relatively stable with continual growth and death. Most of us are in a state prior to secondary succession. We have grown and we have accumulated. 

Our development process could continue, undisturbed, and only allow change to occur when outside forces necessitate it (ex. death in the family, move, etc.). But we have an opportunity to ignite our own fire, which can offer us a truly impactful propelling forward. A symbolic destruction of the things that no longer serve us can allow for a potent renewal. Getting rid of things and revamping our lives in a deep and meaningful way has an often forgotten value. We become scared because of our attachment to our things, our way of life, and what feels safe. Because we become scared and reliant on feelings of comfort, that we eschew the unknown for the known. 

But the beauty of applying the concept of succession to our lives, is that all we can become the fuel for re-creation. We can change from being the anchor, with all of our stuff adding weight, to being our own kindling. In our own ecosystems, we can rise to the occasion.

This isn’t a poetic plea to burn the whole place down in order to watch it regrow. Succession is a physical and environmental truth that we often ignore or misunderstand. The undulations of ecological ebbs and flows can serve as a reminder that our own lives and by relation, our homes and possessions, have similar cycles and can thrive in secondary succession scenarios. We all begin with nothing and then life begins to grow and develop and mature. But growth cannot happen without destruction, because destruction, whatever it’s instigator, leads to new and beautiful things. It allows us to move forward, when we would otherwise hold ourselves back.

Challenge yourself to rethink your surroundings and let go of holding on so tightly. Remind yourself that to really grow and mature to your own climax and eventual steady state, you need to become the fire and see what happens after the flames subside.