For Monday February 29, 2016 (written Wednesday, May 4, 2016)
The word on my office calendar is cultivate. Cultivate a long row of crops, or your long career path or you long commitment to friends and family. The quote says the words ‘improvement,’ ‘achievement’, and ‘success,’ have no meaning without the continuing development and growth that cultivation brings.
I often think of the garden as a metaphor for a relationship or project. It must be tended: thinned, pruned, watered, supplied with sun, kept free from pests but inviting to bees, the soil enriched and tilled as needed. The seeds having lovingly been planted and now enjoyed in their flourishing.
At home with our partners and children, and at work with our coworkers, we have gardens to tend, and we have to tend them all the time, surprising as that might seem at first blush. Families have lots to do and this busy life with all of its mundane and ubiquitous duties like washing dishes, doing laundry, shopping for and preparing food, bathing small beings, taking out trash, paying the bills, chauffeuring the children back and forth to friends’ houses and to lessons, changing the oil in the cars, and so on, can easily usurp the joy. We do not commit to another human being long term, or commit to children we bring into the world without understanding the responsibilities involved. But how worthwhile would all of this incredibly endless and daily set of tasks and routines seem without enjoying one another. We do not seek more work just for the sake of working. But we must feel willing to do the work in order to reap the harvest.
So at home and at work we do both the business at hand and cultivate relationships with those in our boat. One will not get very far if everyone is rowing in a different direction. Nor will we feel the joy and confluence of moving almost effortlessly along the water. In the book, The Speed of Trust, by Stephen Covey Jr (his father writes the introduction– Stephen Covey Sr and author of the renowned, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’) we learn that trust—whether between two people in a couple or friendship, or between an employer and employees or a company and its customers and vendors—greases the wheel of success. Mistrust bogs down businesses and families alike, because when people work at cross purposes and undercut each other, or pull sneaky stunts, or lie or keep secrets, these hurdles prevent operations from running smoothly. And morale goes down. People who operate with honesty, transparently, fairness, and take an interest in the welfare and success of others, make more money and win more friends. When you are as good as your word, everyone learns your word is gold and deals get made quickly. Trust is efficient. What is efficient is graceful—smooth, agile even with twists and turns, seamless, and strong.
We cultivate trust at both of its ends: We speak and act in trustworthiness; and we give the gift of our trust to others. Most importantly, we trust ourselves to show up for our commitments, to offer our undivided attention, to do the best we can to secure our own interests as well as the interests of others in honest and mutually beneficial ways.
Cultivation in rich soil is a lot easier than trying to cultivate sandy or barren soil. Many people live in dire circumstances whether materially, or psychologically. And many people, even the “lucky” ones who have enjoyed material comfort and opportunities for education and employment and freedom of movement, may endure painful assaults to health or grievous losses. But no matter how we have suffered, there is cultivation work to be done if we are to move beyond survival to enjoyment and satisfaction in life.
I recently spoke with an 88 year old relative who had had multiple joint surgeries which required massive operations and long times to heal. And yet this woman suffered most from recently having her teeth pulled. Although she had adjusted to the dentures and could physically eat in relative comfort, she could no longer taste the food she ate. It seemed to her that because the dentures covered her own palate, she experienced not only reduced contact with food, but a great reduction in taste. Food could well have been cardboard; except for dark chocolate. And we all know dark chocolate has magic. The loss in taste, the lost in enjoyment of food, and the loss of her teeth hit her much harder than the joint replacement surgeries even though mobility was still limited. Even the dentures, soaking at night in a glass of solution, and looking in the mirror at the sunken mouth that didn’t feel like her mouth any more, took a psychological toll.
We want to feel like ourselves. What a huge disconnect to lose a leg, to lose one’s teeth, to lose a breast or any part of oneself because of illness or accident. And what a huge project to reconfigure, within our innermost beings, these altered bodies which no longer feel like us. In the Boston marathon, even young people ran with prosthetic limbs. Amazing and awe inspiring. These brave and determined persons have gone beyond adaptation to cultivating excellence in the face of enormous odds. It is difficult to even imagine the dedicated work required to enable the incorporation, within one’s locus of action and being, an alternate part of one’s body.
And yet to incorporate, to integrate into one’s body and mind a formerly unrelated part of the body, consideration of the mind or occupant of the heart, is necessary for the continuing cultivation of our lives. We are all composites of parts, recipes full of ingredients—and changing ingredients at that.
Sometimes, whether in conversation with a friend or family member, or in a therapeutic process, or while practicing a sport or an art with a teacher or coach, we turn and till the soil in which our deepest desires nestle. Sometimes we can even dig deep enough to feel the bedrock underneath, holding up all this cultivation.
Guest saddle: What is it you most want to cultivate within yourself? What garden needs tending between you and another person? What tools, practices and strategies do you use in cultivating your life?