A meaningful life requires flexibility and continuity

I’m still reading Henri Nouwen’s account of his time at the monastery¬†and he keeps sharing a bunch of insights that somehow seem super relevant to my life.

Nearing the latter half of his stay at the monastery, he is trying to figure out what his life should look like after he leaves. How much time should he allocate to prayer, external commitments, writing, etc.

While he has some ideas that he will test, he acknowledges that it will require some experimentation.

It seems crucial that I make clear-cut, concrete decisions and stick to them for a prolonged period. Then I should evaluate the experience with my director, make changes, try it again for a certain time, evaluate again, etc., until I have found a more or less permanent life-style, always open to changes but with a great deal of continuity. Both flexibility and continuity seem to be important aspects for a spiritual life-style in an active profession.

– Henri Nouwen, The Genesee Diary

You may have a certain vision of your life that appeals to you, but without committing to it for an extended period of time, you won’t have enough information to determine whether it is right for you.

On the flip side, being too rigid may lead you to eliminate lifestyle options that could have made your life deeper and more meaningful.

I’ve lived in the Washington, DC area for a decade now (in addition to a few other places like Cairo and San Diego) and I’ve learned quite a bit about what I like. The continuity has helped me figure out I like being in a neighborhood that’s close to various coffee shops/restaurants, etc (just like everyone else). I realized I don’t like the bureau-corporate culture of the area. I also realized being near family is a serious consideration.

My wife and I are now incorporating these preferences into our decision to move to Portland. But after a few a years there it would be wise to evaluate how it’s going and adapt accordingly.

Flexibility and continuity…something to ponder.