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Reflections On Trees and Change

Trees And Change

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.
The second-best time is now.”
~ Chinese Proverb

I was driving home recently, thinking about how our foliage season had been rather bland and noticing that the trees were finally beginning to get bare. I love the look of a winter tree and how we can see its “bones”, those limbs and branches that the leaves keep hidden over the spring and summer.  Looking at those that lined the road I was on, I see how some really were planted in the wrong place. They’re growing into the power lines and the utility companies have trimmed them without any thought to their beauty.

What else could they do? Chop them down? Start all over again? No, no, no! I hate to see a tree taken down. And the new one? Will I even be around to see it mature to its full glory!

While better siting initially would have been ideal, I reflected on how artful, thoughtful trimming and tweaking would be so much better. To me, that’s a reasonable solution. In nature, as well as in life.

It doesn’t have to be done all at once. Small tweaks, small changes can have such a ripple effect. Continuing with the analogy of trees, last year my neighbor took down some large branches that hung over our property. Just removing those few branches gave my garden a whole new life. Plants that had dwindled as the shade increased, got a second chance. Where before I could only put in shade tolerant plants, now I could expand my selections.

That small change led to possibilities.

And then there are times when radical change is called for. It requires spiritual courage and trust.

One more tree story.

When we bought our house almost 20 years ago, we had a gnarly old apple tree in the yard. It wore its years well. Until it didn’t. I am particularly partial to gnarly trees, so I brought in an arborist, assuming that he would heal it. Instead he said to me, “Well, you can spend the next few years watching it die, or you can take it down and plant a new one and watch it grow.”

We took it down and planted a new one. It’s growing quickly. I may not be here to see it reach its full potential but I am enjoying it now.

In the scheme of things, cutting down a tree is not life shattering. However, I find it to be a good analogy for other parts of my life.

Letting go, starting anew, change – it can be sad. It can feel big. Transitioning from one stage of life to another, from one career to another, hey, sometimes from one task to another can feel daunting. Once daunted, we shrink back.

Time will shift things.

Time will always finish the job one way or another. This is one of the few guarantees in life.

In the case of the apple tree, it would have eventually died completely and I would have missed out on years of a healthy tree that peers over the fence, keeps its healthy color and shows off in the fall.

As time does its thing, however, the question to ask is whether or not the change that is occurring is the change you want. Whether it was for your best self. Are you being pulled along and letting time or others do your trimming? You have choices; there are possibilities.

Yes, looking down the barrel of change can be daunting. But it doesn’t need to be so. Sometimes small, deliberate changes ripple out and gift us with what is truly needed.

What is one small tree you might plant or one small tweak you could make now that could make a difference going forward?

Can You See the Possibilities?

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never.”  Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher

The world wants to put us in boxes by life stages. Marketers, social policy wonks, demographers, politicians. We get categorized, labeled and put on the shelf. We become a bland avatar and a statistic. While you and I may have things in common, we are each unique in a very special way.

Life stages have been invented and reinvented for centuries. Aristotle had thoughts on this as did Shakespeare. As demographics and economies shift and life expectancy increases, so do the definitions of the phases of our lives. Marketing and social policy also have a lot to do with this.

Consider the Baby Boomers (another life stage category) with our health and longevity, and how this has made an impact on society. (Yes, I’m a boomer.) We continue to influence social policies, the medical and pharmaceutical world and even the beauty industry. Our buying power speaks loudly.

Or, take the category of middle age. Now, if I am “middle aged”, then I guess I’m living to at least 120. Not sure that’s in the cards, or if I want to!

However, if I really need to be categorized, I’d prefer to put myself in the Third Age which encompasses midlife and beyond.

Oh, what a juicy and spacious place this is!

What is the Third Age?

In his book, A Fresh Map of Life – The Emergence of the Third Age, a British historian, Peter Laslett, posited that life is comprised of four ages. (Another opinion, yes, I know.) These ages don’t correspond to our chronological age, but rather to our roles in life. In our first age, he says, we are dependent. We are still immature; we may be students. The second age is the time for independence, maturity, working, career building and children rearing. The third age is an era for personal achievement and fulfillment after retirement, and the fourth age is a final dependence, infirmity and death.

Laslett suggests that the Third Age can be the culmination of our life. While he also says that typically it is the time after retirement (and before the Fourth Age), I think it starts sooner than that. Or, perhaps, that it should start sooner. Or, really, that we should consider the journey leading up to retirement as part of the Third Age. At a minimum, there is overlap.

The Harvard University Press, in their description of his book, says something similar to what I’m thinking: The prospect of spending long years in reasonable health and scarcely impaired activity, far beyond the convenient landmark of retirement, has already become the norm—without anybody really noticing it, let alone appreciating the implications. In this highly original and perhaps controversial book, Peter Laslett urges us to plan ahead for personal enrichment—before retirement and before the children leave home—before we reach the Third Age.

That Third Age can span decades

It becomes a time of great possibility. It becomes our Creativity Age. We have the opportunity to reawaken. We can begin to focus more of our time on those areas that are personally important and meaningful, those things that feed our hearts instead of just our mouths. (Can you articulate what that is for you?) We can start a second career or become an entrepreneur. We can take all of our life experiences, our self-knowledge, all that has become most meaningful, and turn these decades into a time to blossom in new and deeper ways.

At a certain point in my life, I intuitively moved into preparing for my Third Age. I realized that I had expended a lot of energy adapting to a corporate life. It became necessary for me to unravel that thinking, to detox from that mindset and learn to open myself up to those things that would feed me on a soul level. I began to declare and explore how I wanted my life to look. (I will retire at 55 and do something with writing, I said out loud, without any idea of what that would look like.) What began instinctively (or maybe out of desperation) became a journey of awareness, curiosity, trusting, and discovery. It’s also been a time of trial and error, with each round strengthening skills and self-awareness and bringing me closer to who I am at my deepest level. Chipping away the old, revealing the new. It continues and, I hope, will continue for many more years.

I would never have gotten this far, however, if I had not begun the journey, if I hadn’t heeded the quiet voice inside me. That inner wisdom suggested that there might be a way to live differently, appreciate life in new ways. Without this I might have missed out on the feeling of joy I now experience each day. I would have been staring at walls instead of seeing possibilities.

My Third Age is evolving in new and exciting ways. What would it make feel the same for you?

Some people need a nudge, some a guide. Some just need a witness. What do you need as you navigate your Third Age?

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