Letting life unfold

Sitting quietly, doing nothing,

spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

Basho


I have loved this haiku ever since I first read it. Twenty-five years ago I wrote it out on a piece of card and stuck it over my desk when I was revising for my final exams at university.

I felt instinctively that the words were true, yet I was stuck in a life where I had to strive to make things happen; work, and work some more, worry, then work harder, in order to get a qualification, so that I could get a job, so that I could carry on working hard.

The end was never in sight, just a life of effort and busyness.

I longed for a life where I was like the grass, biding my time and then growing when the conditions were right.

Or a life where I was just sitting, observing, not worrying or striving to control the grass (a pointless task!). Just relaxing, waiting for it to grow in its own sweet time and trusting that everything would unfold as it should.

Neither of these were true for me at the time, instead I was full of anxiety about the future. But I always felt that Basho was speaking across the centuaries to me, pointing out a better way to live.

I’ve been drawn to the haiku again recently as I talk to friends and coaching clients and think about my own life.

The idea of something happening, growing, reaching fruition in its own time and when the conditions are right. Of not knowing what the outcome will be, just letting life evolve and grow.

So often I’ve asked the question ‘now what should I do with my life?’ or ‘what should I do next?’ and expected an answer, fully formed and shiny, a new goal.

What happens when no goal appears, when I’m not sure what to do next? Can I allow my life to unfold naturally, following my interests and passions to see where they take me, without expectations?

My biologist self looks at the grass growing by itself and knows that it is only growing because of the coming together of the right conditions for grass to grow; warmth, sunlight, rain, suitable soil, the right numbers of grazing animals, strong roots that have survived the winter, viable grass seed.

So how can we create the right conditions in our own lives?

Sit quietly, do nothing. Or go for a walk, or whatever allows us the space and time to listen. We need the equivalent of sun, rain and sweet time to let us grow.

An idea nudges us in the quietness, whispers in a small voice ‘this is what I want’.

More ideas emerge, possibilities reveal themselves, action unfolds because it feels effortless, the right thing to do.

It takes faith and courage to let things evolve, to see where your path of life leads. Sometimes it can be a lonely road, it seems that not many others are taking it. But they are.

And eventually a goal emerges, a path appears in the undergrowth. There is a map and someone has been that way before. It might take some effort, risk and persistence to follow the path, but it feels right.

You just have to start walking through the grass, which is growing all by itself.


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Weaving a life

Are you a specialist or a generalist? Can you fit all your interests into one job, or do they spill out over the edges?

It’s a question that interests me because I’ve never been able to fit all of my interests, my personality, my strengths into one job. I always leave something at the office door.

Maybe this is normal, I don’t know.

We start out in life fascinated by so much, little sponges soaking up language and learning, our favourite subjects at school might be as diverse as art, astronomy and cookery, yet we are forced to choose as we get older.

Art versus science, trade versus a degree, adventure versus security, practical work versus academic work, physical movement versus sitting all day at a desk, fresh air versus an open plan office, making a difference in the world versus making money; we cut out options until we are left with one narrow beam of focus leading us into one narrow career and one particular lifestyle.

Maybe some people follow their passions into this narrowing of choices and end up exactly where they want to be. I really hope so, as that’s the way the world seems to be set up.

But what about those people it doesn’t work for? Who follow the rules, do what’s expected, work hard and then find themselves stuck, half way up the career ladder, unable to climb down, not wanting to climb further up, and afraid to jump off. They look around at a landscape of tall ladders, other careers, and none of them are appealing. What then?

Maybe it’s just not possible to fit everything into one job, and a diverse life can be created, leaving plenty of time for hobbies, for family and friends, for volunteering, for exercise, leaving time to just be. But full time work doesn’t leave much time, and a badly fitting job sucks vitality from other parts of life, leaving no energy for anything other than an evening spent in front of the tv.

I’ve tried various approaches, interesting part time jobs that allowed me time to paint, write, go for walks, practise tai chi. Working full time for a while then taking time out to travel or do creative projects. But always I wonder if it’s possible to weave it all together into one coherent whole, to make a difference and to avoid the times when jobs or income are not forthcoming.

And I know it’s not just me that feels this way.

What about you?

How do you weave all your various interests, creative pursuits, employment, family, dreams and adventures into one life? Any tips?

Open Plan Office Blues

When you open the office door in the morning to be greeted by beige and grey,

Dry warm air and the smell of computers

And yesterday’s lunches

And your heart sinks, shrivels and goes into hiding.

When your desk and the space around you is the smallest size it could legally be,

When you have no choice of whether or not you can sit by the window

And anyway the window might not even open,

And the view, if you have one, is the side of another office, or a road, or a block of flats.

When your senses are assaulted by the sound of phonecalls and the tapping of keyboards

And you feel yourself shrinking, contracting, trying block it all out,

And you wonder why you can’t concentrate,

And your mind runs around on the same old wheels, dreaming of a way out.

When others around you are beavering away

Seemingly oblivious to the distractions and ugliness,

And you wonder what is wrong with you and why you don’t fit in

And how on earth you can cope with this for another 30 years.

When you sit in a room with 50 people, but barely have a conversation for fear of creating too much noise,

And you feel trapped in a cage,

And you think you must be too sensitive, not good enough, not trying hard enough,

Just remember, escape is possible.

You’ve got the open plan office blues.

(Yes, I’ve been there, and yes, I did escape!)

The washing up can wait

How to fit a creative project into a busy life?

Prioritize it and ignore everything else.

Begin the day with some painting or writing.

Then do the things that ‘should’ be done

Sit down, start creating.

The washing up can wait.

How to be creative when you have a full time job

Right now, I have a full time job.  It’s interesting, sometimes challenging, and it pays the bills.  Mostly, I enjoy it.

I’ve never really liked working full time, however enjoyable the job is. Because I like to have time to do my own creative stuff.  To paint, to write, to mooch around dreaming up ideas.  And time to be outside. And see family and friends.  And exercise.  And…..how to fit it all in?

I’m not sure I’ve found the answer yet.

Though now the nights have drawn in, I find myself reaching for my  watercolours.  Ideas form and want to be written down or painted.  The summer was for outside, for evening walks after work, for pottering in the garden.  Now, in the post-work dark evenings, time is opening up, time to get up off the sofa and away from the TV, time to start creating.