Lesson from a honeysuckle
It is finally spring and the gray days of winter are behind. In the woods that line our backyard, signs of life are emerging again. The fresh green color of new leaves.
A sparrow sits on the railing of the back deck with its head held a little bit higher, inspecting the world that just feels a tad bit springier.
With spring comes the freedom of taking walks along the neighborhood trail. We do not have to think about putting on winter clothes each time we step out. Spring brings back a sense of freedom, a desire to soar again. Winter was good for introspection, for healing of the soul. Now it is time to unthaw, be free, and fly.
What has also returned is the sweet smell of honeysuckle that permeates the trail. It has such a lovely delicate smell and transports me back to days of childhood when the smell of white flowers of Bela, and Harshringaar, blooming in the little garden we had, floated in the air.
I always wanted to have a honeysuckle vine in our backyard. Finally, last summer we did something about it. During one of the walks, we brought back a few cuttings from the honeysuckle vines that lined the trail. We planted them in small flowerpots hoping some of them would take root. And one did.
Before the start of the winter, we planted the sapling in the backyard. Hoping (and wishing) that it will survive the harshness of winter, and come spring, would smile again.
While planting, there was also a thought that formed in the consciousness. A doubt about seeing the results of the work we are putting in trying to nurture and grow a honeysuckle vine.
Earlier, I had seen the honeysuckle sprout on its own along the edge of the wood that lined our backyard, but it never took root, lived through the next winter and bloomed. It felt like it would take at least a couple of years for the vine to mature and then flower.
A thought crept in that the couple of years of time horizon may well be beyond us to stay in this house. Being close to retirement, and if we move away (which we are thinking), we will not see the honeysuckle grow and flower.
A question came: what is the point of engaging in something without a goal ? Lately, the same sentiment has come up in some other contexts.
Can I feel motivated to write this post (and later, a few more) when there is a likelihood that no one may read it?
Can I pick up the book on evolutionary psychology I saw and bring myself to read it for the sake of reading?
Can I muster enough motivation to learn a language for its own sake?
Lately, the question of why start something new seems to happen more often as I get older. It is getting harder to convince myself to learn something new, to keep the growth mindset going. The primary reason seems not being able to relate learning something new with a goal. Without having a “why” for doing something turns into drudgery.
A = ?, is not a good recipe for motivation.
The basic question I face these days is how to feel motivated without a larger goal to fuel the drive.
Can motivation be innate? Can I engage in something for its own sake and still feel pleasure?
To have innate motivation and engage in something without a goal in mind and sustain that engagement for a prolonged period of time, seems like mission impossible. The notion may be against how natural selection or childhood development of neurons has wired our brains.
The golden rule of natural selection that says please do not waste limited resources on things that do not have beneficial goals and outcomes, is imprinted in my brain.
Actions without goals — ask an average retiree and you may get a glimpse of the dilemma they can face. Their attempt to create a new identity without a clear notion for the goal often becomes a blueprint of their languishing.
The process of losing an identity when we retire and not having prepared for what comes next, together with having a more eloquent realization of our own mortality, could be a paralyzingly devastating combination. A telltale sign of its reality is the fact that there is a niche profession of retirement coaches whose job is to guide us through the non-financial side of retirement and find a goal, meaning, and purpose again .
The irony is that by teaching others how to find their goal, these professionals have found their own!
A coach or not, in the end, for our own sanity, we better find some goals to be our motivators.
The search for goals may come from drawing on our own inner resources and intrinsic strengths, it can come from learning a philosophical framework by which to live, or it may come from devoting ourselves to a religion. Sounds simple, perhaps, but the following is not that simple.
Or the answer may not come at all. The effort involved is too much and taking the path of least resistance is so much easier. If that happens then the numbness of watching endless hours of TV becomes us. TV becomes the shield that protects us from the urge to learn something new (particularly when the goal is not obvious).
Why else is the number of hours an average American retiree watches TV — more than 40 hours per week — so frighteningly high?
As for planting the honeysuckle, there was a way to appease my emerging doubt about the futility of engaging in a task that was potentially devoid of an outcome for us. In the end, I needed to tell myself that although I may not see the outcome of the effort, the family that will own the house next will get to enjoy the sweet aroma. They may even wonder how this honeysuckle came to be, and thank the soul that planted it.
The thought gave me a sense of peace. I got down on my knees and finished the task of transferring the honeysuckle from its pot into the ground. I may not see the honeysuckle bloom, but I will leave something behind that someone else will get to enjoy.
I think in stoicism, it is called reframing — a method to view a situation from a different perspective. The technique can also be helpful in reframing negative thoughts about an activity, and instead, help link them to a goal (and provide necessary motivation).
Yes, I can write this blog post for my own sake. Writing it gives me a sense of creativity, however fickle. It calms my jittery nerves down. And that becomes the goal for writing this post.
The book on Evolutionary psychology, yes, I can pick up the book and read it. Later, I may be able to use some information retained for something. And that becomes the goal for reading.
And yes, by reading evolutionary psychology, I can also validate my suspicion that my ancestors are responsible for my sweet tooth. With that guilt appeased, I can raid the food pantry anytime and have that delicious cookie that constantly challenges my will.
Learning a new language, well, that for its own sake will be a lot harder, if not impossible, for me. No amount of reframing is going to help me there.
In the meantime the winter turned to spring, the vulnerable honeysuckle that I planted last winter came back to life and grew as the spring progressed into summer. And to my pleasant surprise, along came a few white blossoms. Blossoms that held sweet aroma.
Sometimes, we may not know it, but things done for their own sake can return with a gift of blessing. We just have to get over the initial hurdle, or sometimes, reframe as to why?