The peas are growing next to the Borlotti beans in a very sunny spot at the top of the garden. When I planted them I hoped they would find their way and climb up the elaborate combination of poles and string I’d provided. The Borlotti’s just had canes to clamber up, but I worried about their Italian temperament and the likelihood that they would veer off in all manner of directions causing untold horticultural chaos.
Our ability to find what we perceive as direction is something which seems, unlike almost any other, to have a direct correlation with the extent to which we experience balance and peace. But direction works in a multiplicity of ways. There is more purpose and energy in direction which moves us towards something that we want than there is in the direction which moves us away from something we don’t. There is a clarity about where we are going in the former, but only certainty about where we don’t want to be in the latter. It makes a big difference, and how much does it matter anyway?
A painful consequence of this confusion is that we have a tendency to stand still, become indecisive and do nothing. Emotional paralysis borne from a reluctance and a downright terror in making the “wrong” decision is as bad as it gets. The longer we spend indecisive the more indecisive we become, convincing ourselves that we have analysed for so long which the right path might be that we dare not move until we are sure about which one it is. But we can never be sure, and moving into anything with half a heart is wholly dissatisfying and massively unsettling.
What makes it worse is that the most likely advice we receive when lacking direction is “just do something” or “believe in yourself”. This is all very well but if we felt able to to do either, let alone both, we probably wouldn’t be in this mess anyway. I wonder if “finding direction” is something we have an irresistible temptation to overcomplicate.
Even now down in the garden the Borlotti’s are climbing relentlessly up those canes. Not questioning, not wondering if there is an alternative path, like the peas seem to, just climbing, climbing, accepting that their path is the only one.
Finding direction isn’t simple for most of us and, what complicates it further, is that it changes over time, sometimes over very short periods of time, so flexibility is needed and that means choice. Choice when combined with direction often creates a combination of forces which seems to be pulling in different directions at the same time with all of their strength. Like so much in life it is the letting go which seems to create a security of sorts much more more than the holding on tightly.
Over thinking is a scourge of modern life. I don’t know if we have always overthought but I doubt it. As life has become more complex and we have gathered more options and been exposed to more choice we think we have built greater riches than those who went before us, but have we? We cannot possibly do everything which is theoretically open to us so how on earth do we choose and how do we know which direction is the right one? We don’t, and the longer we spend agonising over which way is right the less we take the opportunity to enjoy whichever choice we did make. It’s a little bit tragic. Perhaps the truth is that we wonder too much about “the right path” dismissing the notion that it might just be the only one there is if we’d only listen to and trust our own inner voice.
One thing which might stop us from finding direction is looking for it from things which make us happy. I wrote last week about how meaning is a more valuable currency than happiness and adopting a position that defines what we do only in terms of how much happiness it gives us might be a very short sighted strategy. Happiness is a by product of doing things which are congruent with who we are and is not quite such a draw when sought on its own merits. We live happier lives when we lead healthy, balanced, purposeful lives. Direction brings happiness not the other way around, but similarly direction is often easier to find when we resist forcing it and allow it to meander like the most beautiful of rivers.
The peas, which I imagined would diligently find their way purposefully, are as unruly a vegetable as I have encountered (apart from Rocket, which bolts like a boisterous puppy presented with an open gate). They are flowering and the pods are forming pleasingly but they lack any sort of discipline, rolling over both the Borlotti’s and the french beans which flank them on either side. The Borlotti’s just keep on climbing, greedily shinning up the extended eight foot canes I put in at the weekend, and they appear to have no interest in anything other than vertical movement. But, of course, both paths are right because how is it possible to walk a path that is anything other than our own? How can we be anyone but ourselves? Why do we agonise so much over who we are and what we need to be? We just are, and relieving ourselves of the mythical need to be anything else is as futile as my attempting to get the garden growing according to my ideas rather than those of the plants who combine to create it and whose disinterest in which direction is right is the very dismissal that provides their purpose, their flourish and their delicious and delightful bloom.