Plan vs Goal: are you barking up the wrong tree?

Regular readers will note that things have been a little ghostly around here the past few weeks. Transcontinental travel, it turns out, doesn’t bring out the blogger in me; I’m quite happy absorbing a sunset, or watching the wind whip grains of sand across a dune, without feeling compelled to race back to the computer and write about it. In three weeks my laptop might have come out of its bag twice.

Nevertheless, travelling through the great empty spaces of Australia always helps me tap into that great well of unexplored thought, particularly in terms of our culture and how we relate to the environment in which we live. I’ll return to this in future posts.

Since returning from our long drive back and forth across the continent, I’ve discovered an excellent new spectator sport. Each summer the enormous old angophora tree in our neighbour’s yard slowly sheds its bark. Last summer it was over in a fortnight’s flurry of hot dry winds and scorching sunshine, as though the old tree couldn’t wait to be free of its clothes.

This year it’s an entirely different story: large sheaves of rust-red bark waver in the breeze for days on end, steadily absorbing the drizzling rain. Every now and then a sodden section works its way loose and sails towards the ground. Yet most of it still clings to the trunk and branches, not yet ready to reveal the luscious creamy skin hiding beneath.

Two different summers, two different paths, but the tree’s goal remains the same – a new, smoother, shinier body.

At this time of year many of us make commitments to transform unwanted aspects of ourselves. Early in January we take the time to plan our attack – how am I going to achieve this goal? We then pursue the plan with more or less dogged determination, reassuring ourselves that if we stick to the plan our goal will be achieved. Be it physical, behavioural or mental change we seek, we’re eager to see the results of our resolutions quickly.

But life takes us on different paths, and achieving the transformation we seek often requires a fresh look at the road map, revising the path we take to get there. Our path to transformation is rarely the carefully delineated straight line we draw for ourselves. Rather we need to allow our external environment – the people and places and events that occur around us – to guide us.

Just as the tree is bound to the dictates of the climate, depending on the right amounts of wind, rain and sun to strip away its ragged old clothes, we can’t achieve change in isolation from those personalities and  forces that surround us.

So how should we respond to these swirling, and sometimes conflicting messages?  The answer, I suppose, is to be like the tree: flexible enough to bend with the wind, working to change our own minds and control our own behaviour; strong and resilient enough to remain rooted in the soil and not topple over at the first sign of resistance; and patient enough to trust that our change will be assured if we remain focused on that smoother, shinier, slightly more perfect heart that lies within, waiting to be revealed.

Image courtesy of David Stott

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