On the Emptying of Buckets


(EMPTY Buckets) I'll have these. Someday. (Image sourced via Google.)

(EMPTY Buckets) I’ll have these. Someday. (Image sourced via Google.)

The existential pruning continues.

Today, after a long while, I took out my bucket list—populated mostly by aspirations formulated in my twenties. Since I turned 30, the list has been getting conspicuously shorter. Initial attempts to pare it down were carried out with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, the reductions felt as amputations to my psychic self.

Now the list has been cut down yet again to half its length. I suspect that if I view it this same time next year, I’ll end up throwing it out altogether. The last time I viewed this list several months ago, I said goodbye to publishing my photography, teaching at university and conducting seminars in my spare time. I barely whimpered then. Today, I said goodbye to writing a book, pursuing a doctorate and mastering at least two foreign languages. No wailing, gnashing of teeth or even whimpering this time.

Proof yet again that practice is the key to most everything in life.

Simplifying my life with this much equanimity has not just been the product of practice though, but also of time. There was a time when I didn’t want to simplify. Then there was a time when I did want to simplify but resisted the losses implicit in streamlining. In both cases, I wanted to will the outcome into existence as an intellectual ideal, but I simply wasn’t ready. (Most ideals fail to materialize for precisely this reason: they are designed to prosper only in the realm of the intellect.)

Now I crave the simplicity. The shrill voices of achievement that accompanied me in my twenties have faded to distant echoes. They call to me now and then, taunting my newfound lack of ambition in the hopes of goading me into the old flurry of frantic activity. That they fail to move me has nothing to do with the emergence of wisdom and everything to do with the dissipation of energy that comes with maturity.

Intellectually, I still want many things. I still want to have and do and be many things. But all this wanting requires a vitality that only the youth possess. I’ve found the garden that I wish to tend—and it’s a surprisingly tiny patch of soil.

Fortunately, the earth goes deep. Let the fragile roots reach as far as they can.

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