Friday, 5 December 2008

Learning to love the questions

I had an email from a old friend in England the other day. "So what do you actually find to do all day?" she asked, amongst other things. 

You know what they say about an over-hasty click on the send button. Well, I didn't, although I did walk around with my mouth hanging open for longer than was elegant, or probably necessary. Mind you we used to get similar comments quite frequently during the restaurant years: you'd be amazed how many people thought that we enjoyed endless lazy mornings and afternoons drinking coffee or walking to the beach, before pottering into the kitchen at - oh, six o'clock maybe, to throw together a four course dinner for 12. (If you really want to know, we started work before 8am, and finished after midnight. And in over eight years we only made it to the beach three times ...). And, more seriously and even more sadly, we lost not a few friends during that period because, I think, some people found it hard to accept that we couldn't close up on a Saturday night just because they'd invited us for dinner, or spend much time with them if they dropped in to see us or even booked one of our guest rooms for the weekend. But I digress. 
I admit it may look, from a distance, as though we've become fully paid up members of the leisured classes. Things are going slowly. Sometimes it's frustrating; sometimes it's depressing. But we're at the point now where we've lived here all four seasons round, and so have a much better idea what the house wants and needs from us as well as what we want and need from it; if we'd steamed ahead with a fully fledged renovation a year ago we would, quite frankly, have got it wrong. What we've embarked on, unwittingly but appropriately, is the process of Slow Design. Slow Design (and yes, it really does exist: Google it ...) is about pulling in the reins and breathing deeply; it's about listening, talking to and loving the project even - especially - before it starts to take shape; about taking time to do things thoughtfully, responsibly, holistically, ethically, well, and most importantly in a way that will allow us (and you, should you come here) to derive pleasure from them. You could say that it's a bit like the Eightfold Path of Buddhism. And just as in person centred therapy, the process is as important as the product - actually, more than. 

When I was training to be a therapist, my tutor at the University of East Anglia, Brian Thorne, introduced me to Rainer Maria Rilke and in particular to Letters To A Young Poet, one of the most extraordinary books I've ever read. It affected me deeply then, and still does. Amongst the many paragraphs that come right out and hit me in the gut is this one: 

Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart, and to learn to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the key is this, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, without hardly noticing, you will live along some distant day into the answers.

Do you feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up?

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