How are you?
This is a question most of us are asked frequently, but it’s a difficult one to answer.
Of course, when we’re normally asked this question, there’s an expected answer, and unless we’re speaking to a good friend in the right context, then it would be unusual not to give this expected answer: I’m good thanks.
But if I am to answer this question truthfully, much of the time I’d have to say that I don’t know for sure. Look: I think I’m OK. I wake up in the morning looking forward to the new day. I have a very satisfying job [if you can call it that – the sort of job people envy me for. In fact, if it were possible, I’d be jealous of myself. I don’t take my work circumstances for granted.]
I have a network of good friends and family. Not too many: just enough. I have my health. I don’t have any aches or niggling pains. [I don’t take this for granted, either.] I am free to go about my business, and I can travel freely and, while I’m not rolling in cash, I don’t have financial worries. So I’m OK.
But how am I, really? I don’t know for sure. It’s hard to do a really honest, accurate self-inventory, and there are some places inside I’d rather not look. The most perilous journey that most of us make is the journey into the depths of our hearts. Like many, as long as everything seems OK, then I’m happy to carry on. I suppose this is like running a car without respecting the service intervals: the risk is that something bad will go wrong, and then it will be very difficult and expensive to fix. It might not even be fixable. Or I might just get so used to driving a car with mechanical limitations that I’ve got used to them, even though the car isn’t performing the way it should be.
I’m not arguing here in favour of needless introspection. Sometimes you just need to let a plant grow, without pulling it out of its pot to inspect the roots every couple of days: this would be counterproductive.
Sometimes, though, some soul maintenance is helpful. And it’s good to know yourself. If you don’t know yourself, you are a danger in the context of a relationship with a significant other. And it’s having a deep relationship of this kind that prods all the buttons and goes into places where we’d rather it didn’t, opening the cupboards and draws where we’ve piled in the stuff that we couldn’t or didn’t want to sort through. It makes us face ourself in often very uncomfortable ways: I didn’t know I was like that, and so on. So, back to the idea of soul maintenance: to continue with the gardening metaphors, if you want a plant to grow well, create the sorts of conditions where it can flourish. Prepare the soil; remove those weeds that are safe to remove (weeding can damage the plant); provide water. Left to its own devices, without adequate light, water or nutrition, there’s a chance the plant will not flourish.
If I prod around a little, I can sense there are areas where I probably need to do a bit of processing. Just over two years ago I moved out of home. I got a divorce. Since then, I’ve not had a place that is home. The excellent temporary arrangement (living at my sister’s) has worked well, partly because I’m travelling more than I am in the country. Right now, it looks like I may end up living outside the UK, in time. I’ve left all that is familiar and stable, and I’ve left behind possessions, shared friends, even two dogs. Pyschologically, this all takes some processing, as does the pain and sadness that inevitably accompanies the end of a long-term relationship.
I’ve had more than the average portion of change, coupled with a large dollop of uncertainty. It has seemed easier than I thought it would be to adjust to, but I suspect I may not be respecting the service intervals or watering the plant properly.
One close friend said a while back that he was quite scared for me, in my situation. He thought that by leaving my marriage and family home, I was embarking on a perilous path. I’m not scared, though. Fear is a fickle friend, and I’m not going to give any time to fearful thoughts or anxieties. I’ve had to face a lot of change over a short timescale, but change is part of life. It’s impossible for us to stand still, and any attempt to do so is bound to fail. Time moves on, we grow older, seasons change. There’s no safety in stasis. The idea that we can settle where we are comfortable – preserving and prolonging the moment – is a fallacy. The nature of time, and the impossibility of time travel, sees to that.
Perhaps wine is a helpful illustration of this. Each year brings a new vintage, and every vintage is different. Winegrowers are faced with the dynamics of unique growing seasons and then must respond intelligently. Change is forced on them, just as it is in our inner lives. We must respond by growing and developing, processing the raw material that life sends our way, often in the form of struggles and challenges, as well as new opportunities and successes, to forge something lasting and valuable.