Thursday, January 8, 2009


Same old, I suppose – lose 10 pounds, get back into shape, drink less red wine, simplify. The good news (as it were) is that the first two are, as I write this, attainable; again, depending on one’s definition of ‘shape’. The third? Well, the jury is sufficiently ambivalent (on the respective benefits and costs of same) that I think I’ll just hold that one until the definitive study is done. Also, there is that case of good Australian Shiraz that still sits on the rack. But the fourth. Now we’re talking real resolve. As Nicola and I sat on a blissfully quiet New Year’s Eve at home, and discussed where we’d like to see 2009 be directed, the need to ‘reign in’ was uppermost in both our thoughts. Not just a rewording of the old ‘take more time for ourselves’ mantra – but in the neighbourhood.

A few months back, sitting amongst a group of old friends and acquaintances, I’d begun to muse about the pleasure I was able to take in the ways in which a number of areas in my life had apparently begun to crystallize, particularly in the past year. It would be arrogance indeed to claim that these were ‘goals attained’ – since that would imply some intention in the setting of same. No, these events were more a subtle coalescence of important and very occupying quarters of my life into what could be loosely described as ‘achievement’; reaching a satisfying state that, on reflection, could have been goals if, twenty or more years ago I’d had the wisdom, forethought, and sustainable drive to target them.

I rambled (much as I am now) about the satisfying growth and expansion of an ‘accidental business’ commenced some sixteen years ago. How, without any discernible plan, a small (and decidedly tenuous at the time), private practice had evolved into a twelve-practitioner, two-building ‘enterprise’. How ‘graybeard’ status seemed to have crept up and was, at long last a comfortable mantle in my community of peers. How the opportunity to mentor and spawn a second generation of colleagues had presented. Again, not with any intention (and certainly not desire) to build some professional edifice; but to merely give back to a profession that has been good to me over my working life. And how, with the waxing and waning of many different communities over several years and focuses of interest, a few such have attained gratifying and sustainable prominence in recent times.

And so it was not without some significant surprise that I heard, amongst the litany of well-wishings, a subtext of ‘now what?’; the personal and interpersonal cost attached; and the subtle, incipient seeds of ‘addiction’ being sown. Always ready to relate things to movies, I was reminded of What A Way To Go, a 1960’s comedy with Shirley MacLaine, Dick Van Dyke, and Paul Newman, built around the ‘unintentional’ but fatal success, evidently spawned in any number prospective husbands by Ms. MacLaine’s interest in them; seeing a meteoric rise from small-town contentment to mega-success – and, predictably, one’s being done in by same, shortly thereafter. And so with more than a healthy sprinkling of addictions therapists present in said group, I thought it prudent to at least consider their take on what moments before had been a comfortable riff on being sixty-two and reasonably content at ‘having arrived’.

And so here we are with simplifying. Not such an easy task – when the ‘complications’ in one’s life are, at least on the surface, paying dividends as it were. Perhaps it was the time to actually make a plan – to contain, to build healthy and sustainable boundaries, to be selective, and to be a little less prepared to be seduced by the sweet smell of success. Another abiding metaphor for both Nicola and me is that of gardening: time to prune!

As with any good ‘clean up’, some principles need to be identified and applied. After all, one cannot just go about, randomly clipping and hacking at plants; and expect the result to be anything different than a bad hair cut – shorter hair, but a rather ragged and haphazard ‘look’. And so the task became not just one simplification – which, for me has always smacked of taking things out of an equation in the fond hope that there would be more ‘quality time’ left at the end of the day. But examining one’s commitments, roles, obligations from within the values of intention, reciprocation, boundary-setting as possible parameters directing the decision-making in the upcoming year.

A basic element in mindful living, intention invites a conscious awareness of what one chooses to do – not the harried, reactive, and ill-considered basis that seems inevitably to result in over commitment. Reciprocation, particularly in relationship, be it with individual or community, presupposes a ‘two-wayness’; a sharing with, true – but also a receiving from as a precondition of relations that present as balanced, authentic, satisfying. Too often I find commitments being made where the ‘flow’ is decidedly one-way, ultimately fostering a resentment of time and energy invested. How better to prune, to judiciously assign one’s precious resources than to those mutual attachments. And boundaries, those elusive, often porous limits to our emotional, interpersonal ‘properties’, and their companion principle – saying ‘no’ – consistently applied have simplification written all over the gatepost. With the careful excision of those co-dependent, enabled commitments, one clears the way for healthy growth, the creaking, groaning deadwood kicked to the curb.

And with it all, the opportunity to festina lente – make haste, slowly. No more rushing!

David Howard

1 comment:

mackie100 said...

Lose weight, really? Drink less red wine. How could that be good for you?

While I follow the intent of your resolutions, I take a small exception to your analogy of simplification through pruning. Being a very novice, intermittent and lately mostly armchair gardener, I still take great joy in pruning. However, beyond the pure joy of using my Felco 13, I have come to realize that pruning has three purposes; for the health of the plant, to produce more than the natural amount of fruit and flower and to shape the plant in a way different to its nature. They are all premeditated acts of reduction. Perhaps that is true simplification.

However resolutions to me are more about expansion, moving beyond, continuing a journey or starting a new direction. My analogy is more akin to a rain drop running down a window. Any obstructive dirt particle or ripple of glass creates a pause in its progress. It sits there collecting itself until it explodes around it almost gleefully off in a slightly new direction. Our permanence is usually not as great as our woody friends but we have the great advantage of moving on while always leaving a little of us behind. Like a water drop I would like to be aimed at a goal but able to celebrate the obstacles that send me off in a slightly new course, sometimes joining with other, sometimes on my own but never actually knowing exactly where I will end up. Actually is that not truly a faith journey?