The cultivated life

We must remain attentive in order to be able to receive.*
(John O’Donohue)

If we stopped doing everything for which we do not know the reason or for which we cannot provide the justification … we would probably soon be dead.**
(Friedrich Hayek)

How can I grow?

We may not say it in just this way.  Perhaps we say, How can I improve my performance?, How can I enjoy my life?, How can I pursue my dreams?,  How can I deal with this challenge?, or in countless other ways.  In a universe where things that are alive, grow, it makes sense and is a healthy thing to ask the questions.

It begins with how much we’re prepared to see or, more precisely, to see what we see.

The cultivated life is one prepared for crops, for fruitfulness.

To be willing to see more is an action that breaks open our lives.  In this, we are saying, we don’t know everything – even about ourselves.  We’re inviting difficulty, pain, incompetence and vulnerability.

Difficult we’re taken outside our comfort zone.

Pain because all muscles (whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual hurt when pushed further.

Incompetence because we are moving into doing unfamiliar, unpractised things.

Vulnerability because we are exposed by all of these

This isn’t a pleasant place but the positives outweigh the negatives.  Alan Lightman helps us to see what makes a good story:

‘A good novel gets under our skin, provokes us long after the first reading because we never full understand the characters.


We sweep through the narrative again and again, searching for meaning.  Good characters must retain a certain mystery and unfathomable depth, even for the author.  Once we see to the bottom of their hearts, a novel is dead to us.’^

There’s always more to see.

To keep looking moves us beyond present knowledge and behaviour, pushes us beyond our competency and our comfort zone.  Yet we’re proving to ourselves and those around us that not only are we alive but we’re capable of indefinite growth.  Lightman continues, now emphasising how important it is to hold things in tension if life is to be deeper and richer

‘I learned to appreciate both certainty and uncertainty.  Both are necessary in the world.  Both are part of being human.’^

This healthy life is, ultimately, an infinite game: we refuse to categorise something or someone prematurely or for ease; instead we remain open for as long as possible in order to see what might emerge.  We are made to look.

Seeing in this way is not something some have and others don’t have, it’s grown by making ourselves look for longer.

(*John O’Donohue, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**Friedrich Hayek, quoted in Gerd Gigerenzer’s Gut Feelings.)
(^From Alan Lightman’s A Sense of the Mysterious.)


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