How do you measure your progression through life? What constitutes moving forward or backward? Or getting stuck in a ditch? Can you tell the difference? Is forward momentum created by simply making changes big or small, not settling for the same old, same old? Is that how you make certain you aren’t getting stale? Losing air, forgetting to breathe? Sticking to your routine no matter what?
It was so much easier when we were young. From birth through childhood growing was as effortless as breathing. Our bodies did the growing for us. But by the time we entered adulthood with our physical growth at an end, who we are and are becoming happens in our minds. By the time we reach thirty the majority of our thoughts have sunk into our unconscious leaving us with a very small percentage available to us in our conscious awareness. How we operate in life is profoundly influenced from what has been relegated into the depths, where our experiences, thoughts and feelings have long been accumulating. Unbeknownst to ourselves, that deeper reservoir of memory determines most of our choices and inclines us to do what is safe, habitual, automatic and hardwired. It often requires something deeply impactful or catastrophic to jar us into realizing that maybe we should do things differently. That slim window of opportunity opens up for a moment where we are untethered from our same old, same old. We can then choose to go deeper into ourselves to see who is there and what it is we really want.
I find inspiration by paying attention to growing things, watching how they do it. Plants, animals, earth.
It seems to me it helps if you can sink your roots deeper than deep. To where the source of water and nutrients abound. Even in the waterless times. Being well rooted keeps you grounded and holds you in place when the winds are howling. It is said that plants communicate with each other underground.
“Lean times coming Ficus. Tend to your roots, ya hear me?”
“Okay Silver Grass. I hear you.”
I watched a movie made for television a lifetime ago that displayed the difficulty and necessity of growth and change. The movie was called “The Harness” and starred Lorne Greene who played Ben Cartwright in the Bonanza series at the time. It was loosely based on a John Steinbeck short story about a well respected farmer who was made to wear a leather harness by his ailing wife to keep his back upright and also to exercise a certain amount of control over him. She eventually passes away but, not knowing there were options, he continues to tend to his farm and his back in the same fashion that he did when his wife was alive.
Eventually a free-spirit of a woman and her young son come through the area who are in need of money for their travels. They stop at Lorne Greene’s farm and ask if he needed any hired help. Since the movie was made in 1971, the young woman was portrayed as hippie-ish, a free spirited gypsy seeking truth in her travels. She was worlds away from his now dead wife and the conservative people of the area. The farmer eventually becomes drawn to her. They share one night together which is the catalyst that sparks a profound transformation in the farmer. He begins to feel things differently, he asks questions instead of giving rote answers and eventually he removes the harness and stores it away in the barn.
It is the ending of the film that made this story indelible. Even though the young woman and her son have moved on to further adventures, Greene’s character, who is left behind, doesn’t revert to his old self. Rather, he chooses to begin to live. This is illustrated by a conversation he has with his brother. He asks him if he wants to go to another part of the farm to watch the sun go down. His brother looks puzzled and says something like, “What for? Sunset’s a sunset….” Lorne Greene looks his brother in the eye and says, “Ficus (or whatever his name was), have you ever really seen a sunset?”
I struggle with people who are seemingly not moving forward. I understand there is a huge log that exists in my own eye but I often run to get the tweezers to pull out the speck of dust in the eyes of others, scarcely noticing my own denial elephant happily idling in the center of my vision. The human mind is a clever trickster. What seems to be utter clarity about others is really self revulsion shooting outward. I am sucked ever deeper into my crazy house of mirrors.
I try to remember to take a step back and give grace. If I’m not always certain I can call what I’m doing with my life making progress, who am I to judge what others seem to be doing with theirs? I know full well that this could be me, mired in indecision and weighed down with unnecessary thinking. But when I’m stuck I have the good fortune that something will whisper a warning in my ear. It is a reminder that not going forward is staying still, or worse, slipping backwards.
Perhaps it is best to look away and go easy on others’ choices, or lack thereof, as long as they aren’t endangering themselves or others. Forward, backward, stuck, unmoored, drifting are all deeply internal experiences that we may feel happening to us, but more often are subterranean, avoided and barely felt.
Change occurs when something happens to make our roots push deeper and from the looks of it above ground, we seem taller. We try sushi, we move to Nutella, Nebraska, we take off the harness and put it in the barn. We’re no longer self limiting or afraid of breaking our own archaic rules. We notice that the horizon really is wide open to us. And we finally understand that we alone are the ones who will get us to wherever it is we see fit to go.
We can insist on growing for as long as we have breath.
Just keep scanning the horizon for a North Star to show you where you are and where you are going whether it’s backwards, forwards or nowhere at all.
Like a cedar in Lebanon. . . They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green.