Romanesco Broccoli is one of those things that made me believe that it was possible for a right-brain leaning, creative, and literary type like me to become fascinated with, and actively seek out, things like Fibonacci spirals and to see math and physics alive in the world. The first time that I discovered a mesmerizing head of Romanesco was about seven years ago and I was enthralled! I promptly staged a photo shoot of what was one of the most beautiful vegetables I had ever seen.
Not much has changed in seven years! Whenever I spot Romanesco in the grocery store, I scoop it up as if I have just discovered gold, and personally, I don’t feel like that’s a stretch. Admittedly, I don’t generally struggle to find nature’s designs in almost any plant, tree, or flower (edible or otherwise), enamouring and an endless source of wonder, but Romanesco is always a show stopper. The stunning intricacies of the spirals on top of spirals on top of spirals, can literally make your head spin in the most lovely of ways.
Spirals are everywhere; abundantly present in nature, studied in mathematics, present at the core of our DNA, mirrored in art and life. Continually reminding us the circle of life, of the ebb and flow, of life and death. Perhaps what makes a head of Romanesco so lovely and alluring is that the spirals, both physical and metaphysical, that are so often hidden from our daily view, are so boldly displayed there before the naked eye. It becomes a mesmerizing experience, as though the veil of nature has been lifted and we are privy to this tangible view of what so often feels intangible.
Spring will be upon us soon, despite the fact that it has felt like a wave that comes tumbling towards the shoreline, only to roll back into the ocean at just the moment before it can wash over us. Another spiral. I am moderately consumed (complete fabrication; I am deeply and wholly consumed) with the cyclical nature of the seasons and how we move through them as humans, not only in the physical sense, but also in the emotional, and spiritual. The way that life and nature mirror each other continues to inspire awe in me, always renewing my own spirit.
Nature is relentless; continually making comebacks, reviving herself, reinventing herself, always somehow trusting the process, and always allowing for seasons of rest without any sense of guilt or inadequacy. And spiraling always, always giving way to the flow, always knowing that there is no up without down, no life without loss, no quiet without first knowing noise, no joy without sadness.
Romanesco offers this outer glimpse of what swirls daily on the inside and in the unseen. It is a peek at the mystery of a life filled with beautiful constants, despite what so often feels like a world of chaos. There is great comfort in seeing glimmers of the threads that run deep and true. Threads that I believe connect us to a loving and good Creator. Threads that in their constancy help us to make sense of the many things which feel entirely out of control.
Sometimes spiraling feels like just that, chaos, and a loss of control, and randomness. But the moments that lift the veil of mystery show such a different story. Suddenly we have a Fibonacci sequence; 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 … and on and on, the sum of each new number is the sum of the two which preceded it. And just like that, stepping back, we see the steady hand of sequence, of some kind of order. In what feels like falling and tumbling there is this invisible structure, this profoundly beautiful design. It marches on, it exists even when we don’t acknowledge or accept it.
To be fair, it can be exceptionally frustrating to have someone suggest design and order when our lives feel like they are spiraling, or compounding with one wave of hardship after the other. The last two months have felt this way in my home, where the overwhelm has been entirely too much, where I have spent so much of my time white-knuckling it through my days, terrified of releasing for fear of even more chaos.
And still, I can’t seem to get it out of my head … the sum of each new number is the sum of the two which preceded it. So spiraling is, in fact, this phenomenal forward motion, propelling itself ahead with the very experiences of the past to build something more. So then, spirals are growth; they push and propel us into new places, they expand us. They are uncomfortable from our vantage point because we are growing and stretching, because we are growing with each new addition to the previous experiences. It isn’t until we allow ourselves to step back that we can see the real beauty of the growth.
But here’s the thing, plants don’t have the same kind of emotional lives as we do. Math and physics, they don’t feel, they just are. They aren’t even hurt by anomalies or deviations from the “standard” or the norm. They kind of just keep trucking along, being math and physics, or nature. They adjust and keep plucking along. But we take it so much more personally, especially when our life seems to deviate from the standard or norm that we were working towards.
And yet, usually, when things are spiraling, it isn’t our entire life that is out of control. It is one layer, or a few aspects, but rarely is the very fabric of our being, our value, or our essence as human beings at risk. Sometimes it may feel like the whole, but what is shifting and changing is only a part. Look again at the Romanesco, each spiral is made of up another spiral, that is stacked on yet another spiral. Interconnected and intertwined, but nevertheless the complete make up is of endless spirals. So too our lives consist of so many aspects and elements, we cannot be merely defined by loss or deviation in one form or another, because each exists within the larger framework of yet another cycle, of another growing and expanding and forward moving spiral.
The spirals we see in nature are merely the patterns that become evident out of what is already a deeply layered existence. When we see a Fibonacci sequence in a seashell, a flower, a pine cone, in the growth of a tree, in Romanesco broccoli, it is the pattern that becomes recognizable but it is buried in the depth of a greater whole. It’s why when we look at a seashell, a wave, or the arrangement of petals on a flower we see their wholeness first and foremost. The spirals are there, but they are not the first thing we notice. We are first taken in by the beauty of the whole before we even consider the parts.
It follows then that when someone one looks at you, my dear one, they see the beauty of the whole and not the countless spirals or chaos, or the mistakes and the hardships. Oh, those trials are there, those experiences, both the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows, but they aren’t the very things that define you. They may help to create the greater threads of your life, they may be the things that stretch and grow you but what we see first is the whole beauty of the person that God created you to be.
If you’ve ever walked a prayer labyrinth you have probably experienced the calming nature of the weaving and spiraling as you move towards center, like a long and deep inhaling and then the journey back out like an exquisitely relaxing exhale. St. Augustine notably declared, Solvitur ambulando, “it is solved by walking.” And isn’t it truth? There is no way out but through, and in a forward motion. Even “back” could never be the same road we once traveled. Each road new, each spiral propelling us forward. Even if you feel like you are returning to the same old things, the you experiencing them today isn’t.
One of the loveliest explanations that I came across about labyrinth walking was this one; “it gives you the freedom to walk around while focusing your mind on God – and not worry about getting lost.” Because a labyrinth isn’t a maze meant to trick you with dead ends and traps, but rather to allow you to let go of your worries and be present while trusting in the sequence and order of the path to both bring you into the heart of God and to carry you out.
It is this beautiful reminder that we are safe in the spirals, that just like Fibonacci’s sequence reveals there are constants even in the face of chaos. The spirals are not meant to trap or trick you, but rather, through the rhythmic inhale and exhale of them, we find ourselves growing and expanding into the fullness of who we were created to be.
Inhale and exhale. And forward dear ones! Forward!
Warmly and with Love,
P.S. In all my deep reflection I feel I should also mention that Romanesco broccoli makes a wonderful dish for your table! I enjoy mine steamed or roasted, drizzled with some olive oil (or butter because, well, butter!) and salt. The flavour has much of green broccoli freshness but with the lovely texture of a cauliflower. It is especially delicious served with a fried egg on top of it!
Fun Fibonacci Spirals:
Doodling In Math: Spirals, Fibonacci, and Being a Plant (Part I of a three part series that I just love and is great for older kids learning about Fibonacci sequences)
Learn more about Prayer Labyrinths: