Following the flow of affordances


The phrase in the title is something an amazing college professor of mine introduced me to a lifetime ago. It took me another ten years to really appreciate its meaning, though I can’t yet say I manage to live it day to day. So much of the time we push forcefully for what we want to achieve, when if we are observant and insightful, the “just right” action will become available and apparent to us without so much effort. Potentials and opportunities are latent in our environment, our task is to become open to and aware of them and confident in our ability to seize them.

Growth is a fundamental aspect of cycle of life – birth, growth, decay, death.  It is as inexorable as the downward slope of decay. Plants, animals, and even humans all follow some internal, automatic development plan. Things naturally unfurl – we don’t have to “make them grow” – they just do. The only things we need to do are nourish them and remove obstacles to growth if they appear. I think this fundamental aspect of growth and development pertains to all forms of development, not just physical, but also personal, professional, emotional, and even spiritual.

I recently came across the phenomenon of Native American trail marker trees.  These trees were constrained to grow in a certain direction for many years in order to obtain a certain shape.  When the constraint was removed, the tree resumed its natural course, pushing upward toward the sky, often making a sharp ninety-degree turn to get back on track. They respond to effortful shaping, but in the end revert to following their own natural flow of affordances.

So it is with us. We have our own unique potentials that can be temporarily quashed by obstacles or stressors, but when the obstacles are removed, when we nourish our latent talents, we naturally lean into the light to reach our highest potential. The questions then become, what are the obstacles that prevent you from becoming your best self?  What ways can you nourish yourself so that you can reach your greatest heights? What potentials are latent in your environment that you are not seeing or seizing?