Are You Watering the Fruit Tree?
Tend to the causes.
Let's say you want to get apples from a tree of
your own. So you go to a nursery and pick a good
sapling, bring it home, and plant it carefully with
lots of fertilizer in rich soil. Then you water it
regularly, pick the bugs off, and prune it. If you
keep tending to your tree, in a few years it will
likely give you lots of delicious apples.
But can you make it produce apples? Nope, you
can't. All you can do is tend to the causes - but
you can't control the results. No one can. The most
powerful person in the world can't make a tree hand
over an apple!
Similarly, a teacher cannot make his students
learn long division, a business owner can't make
her employees invent great new products, and no one
can make another person love him or her. All we can
do is to nourish the causes that promote the
results we want.
This truth has two implications, one that is
tough-minded, and one that is peaceful:
- You are responsible for the causes you can
tend to. If you are not getting the results you
want in your life, ask yourself: Am I truly
doing everything I reasonably can to promote the
causes of those results?
- You can relax attachment to results. When
you understand that much of what determines
whether they happen or not is just out of your
hands, you worry less about whether they'll
happen, and you suffer less if they don't.
Paradoxically, focusing less on results and more
on causes improves the odds of getting the results
you want: you zero in on creating the factors
(i.e., causes and conditions) that naturally lead
to success, and you aren't worn down by stressing
over the outcome.
Do what you can to lift your well-being and
overall functioning. This is a global factor that
will turbocharge all the other causes you tend
So ask yourself: what makes the most difference
here? It could be something that seems little; for
me, one of the biggest factors is when I get to
bed, since that sets up whether I can get up to
meditate in the morning, which transforms my whole
day. It could also mean dropping something negative
that brings you way down, like needless arguments
with other people.
Pick one thing that will really lift you, and
focus on that this week.
- Also consider a key area in your life where
you are not getting the results you want. (Work?
Love? Health? Fun? Spirituality?) In that area,
identify one cause that has big effects.
For example, in a logjam, there's usually a "key
log" that will free up the whole mess if you get it
to move. Similarly, if you want to fill a bucket,
put the biggest rock in first.
Making this real: if you want to lose weight,
make sure you are exercising; if you want a mate,
make sure you're meeting new, "qualified
prospects"; if you want your kids to cooperate,
make sure you've established parental authority; if
you want a better job, make sure you're actively
looking for one; if you want more peace of mind,
make sure you're routinely relaxing and calming
Get after that one cause this week, and stick
- Tell the truth to yourself about causes and
results: Are you pursuing the right causes? For
example, you may be pulling really hard on a
rope (a cause) but it's just not attached to the
load you're trying to move (the result you
Maybe you need to tend to other causes - perhaps
ones at a deeper level, like your own well-being.
Or maybe the result you want is out of your power,
and you just have to accept that.
- Let the results be what they are, learn from
them, and then turn your attention back to
causes. Don't get so caught up in your apples
that you forget to water their tree!
* * *
As they say in Tibet, if you take care of the
the years will take care of themselves.
is a neuropsychologist and author of
Brain: The practical neuroscience of
& wisdom with
Rick Mendius and Mother Nurture: A Mother's
Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate
Relationships. A summa cum laude graduate of
UCLA who received his doctorate from the Wright
Institute in Berkeley, CA, he founded the
Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and
Contemplative Wisdom, edits the Wise Brain
Bulletin, and writes a blog for PsychologyToday.com
as well as a weekly newsletter called Just One
Thing; his articles have also appeared in Tricycle
Magazine, Insight Journal, Inquiring Mind, and
Buddhist Geeks on-line magazine. He teaches
regularly at universities and meditation centers in
Europe, Australia, and North America, and has audio
programs with Sounds True. Rick began meditating in
1974 and has practiced in several traditions; he
was a board member at Spirit Rock Meditation Center
for nine years and is a graduate of its Community
Dharma Leaders program. He leads a regular
meditation gathering in San Rafael, CA. Currently a
Trustee of Saybrook University, he was also
President of the Board of FamilyWorks, a non-profit
agency. He and his wife have two adult children.
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