Setting or Shedding Priorities

Yesterday, my IC and I went for a walk by one of the area lakes. The clear blue sky and the crisp morning temperatures were the lures that got us lakeside. We weren’t the only ones on the level trail, but the relative paucity of other walkers make the experience especially refreshing. My stamina remains extremely low and thin, so we trudged along at a slow pace and stopped at a couple of benches along the way, pausing long enough to soak in the serenity crafted by calm water and the occasional call of water birds. A couple of fishermen in bass boats were visible in the middle of the lake and a couple more near distant shores. Walking along the water, and sitting near the water’s edge, made us both long to live in a lakeside home. I think I would be satisfied with a small cottage, provided it was sufficiently secluded; I think she would be happier with a larger place. Our preferences don’t really matter, though; the cost of a lakeside home is out of reach for us, me especially. I am unwilling to get into levels of debt that would rob me of the serenity a lakeside home might provide. We can be satisfied, I think, with the knowledge that lakes are nearby and the serenity of a lakeside walk is just a short drive away.

Yesterday’s experience brought to mind the unfortunate fact that, in our society, money is required to gain access to so much of what we value personally. Peaceful environments, comfortable houses, access to amenities like shopping, entertainment and the like, and so much more require money. And our wishes and dreams and desires seem so often to be just beyond our financial reach. Yet, with the proper attitudes, we could adjust our perspectives so that we look with appreciation on what is readily available to us, rather than with envy on what is not.

The older I get, the more disenchanted I get with a culture that molds our wants and needs around the financial desires of business. We’re coached by advertising and marketing into what we should desire: we want the latest gadgetry, the newest trends in clothing, the most fashionable footwear, the biggest houses, the most up-to-date automobiles, the latest trends in home décor, etc., etc., etc. With just a bit of self-reflection and introspection, I think we’d all be much less inclined to be herded like sheep into commercial chutes to buy, buy, buy, buy. Knowing this, though, and allowing the knowledge to transform our lives are quite different. Though I feel, deep in my bones, that consumerism is, by and large, a nasty virus that ruins the serenity of living in—and being satisfied with—the here and now, I regularly get roped in by the consumerism and commercialization I know is trying to control me. I want, want, want, want, want, succumbing to the desires injected into my  mind-stream by savvy marketers. It’s not a simple matter of rejecting their subtle forms of mind control; it requires a concerted effort and a commitment to rejecting buying for the sake of buying.

So, back to wanting a quiet, secluded, bucolic lakeside house. It’s all a matter of priorities. Must this house be large? What attributes must it have? How many bedrooms? How much land must it sit on? Must is be ON a lake or would a place just “up the road” from a lake do? Must the place be outfitted with the latest fashions in home décor? How close must it be to entertainment? With respect to the latter, priorities have to be established: which is most important, seclusion or access to a bustling environment? There are so many aspects surrounding what is important in one’s life; all of them must be considered and prioritized and evaluated in light of available resources and how much of those resources one is willing to expend to achieve those priorities. I think these decisions should be made in one’s youth and should guide one’s life. But youth is not suited to such decision-making. Youth is a time of trial and error. Too often, it is a repeating circle of the same trials and errors. By the time we reach retirement, we find we haven’t make the commitments to self-knowledge necessary to knowing what we want and need and require for contentment.

And so it goes.


I think health challenges tend to cause us to reset our priorities, or at least to reexamine them. It makes sense; without our health, living contentedly with whatever priorities we have been able to reach becomes difficult, if not impossible. It’s too bad we don’t find it easier to reset and/or reexamine priorities without being prompted to do it by urgent health concerns.

As the following words of Phoebe Snow illustrate, I am not along in thinking along these lines:

Sometimes when you’re overwhelmed by a situation— when you’re in the darkest of darkness—that’s when your priorities are reordered.

~ Phoebe Snow ~

I think it would make good sense for every person to start each day with a ritual of sorts (despite my previous expressions of aversion to ritual). This ritual would have us first restate for ourselves our own most pressing personal priorities. Then, we would articulate specifically how we are going to pursue the most important of these for that specific day. Finally, we would commit to examining, the next day, how we did in that pursuit. It sounds simplistic, and it is, but that process could help us stick with priorities, rather than letting them disappear into the mist of day-by-day living. And it could help us discover which priorities really have meaning for us and which are simply window dressing that we might be better off by shedding.



About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to Setting or Shedding Priorities

  1. Meg Koziar says:

    Good to see a nice long contemplative, post, John. Calming. Thanks, Meg

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