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.

The spaces in between

The train to Manchester was busy.

Next to me, leaning against the window and not making eye contact, a young man with a backpack. He kept his backpack on all the way, and his coat. He hunched uncomfortably on the seat, moving constantly; cracking his knuckles, jiggling his legs, sighing, yawning.

The train took its time, and I distracted myself with my phone. Both of us would rather be anywhere but here, squashed into a train with strangers.

The kind of train journey that doesn’t have space, physically or mentally.

This one does. This train, from Manchester to Norwich, is blissfully empty. Hours of countryside pass by; tunnels, rivers, mountains, woods. I barricade myself into my seat, coat on the chair next to me, bag in front, daring anyone to sit next to me. My own little cocoon.

Then the journey works it’s magic.

The rocking of the train, eyes relaxing over the long views, grey skies giving way to silver, then blue, then back to grey.

The train sings nothing to do, nothing to do, nothing to do.

Space

To think

To relax

To breathe

To dream.

Ideas appear, then drop behind. Contentment spreads.

Ideas reappear, then blossom. The future appears more fluid, more malleable.

And all I have to do is sit here and be transported.

How rare it is to find this space, the space between. Between departing and arriving, between dreaming and becoming, between beginning and end.

The space where possibilies expand with the horizon, where new futures can be envisioned and old bonds can drop away.

My most audacious goals seem possible

And yet isn’t all life lived in this space, really?

How good we are at distracting ourselves from it, filling our lives up with busyness.

As the land flattens out and the towns get closer together, I start to weave my dreams into reality, mapping out actions for the coming months. Dreaming into doing, breathing thoughts into life.

The train arrives. I depart into the cold night air.

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I would like to find ways of inhabiting this in between space more often, instead of leaving it to chance.

How do you find the time and space to reconnect with your dreams and to plan for your future?