First sips of coffee in the early morning is what I live for some days.
I learned a lot of important lessons when I used to take my backpack full of outdoor gear into the woods and disappear for days. For a short while, that trail became my whole world. It taught me that all we can really do is to put one foot in front of the other. The destination was never the point, it was always about the journey.
We all get stuck in ruts. Then we get frustrated, overcome by guilt or shame. We sometimes manage to get out of the rut only to find ourselves stuck in another just a few moments later.
This is what is known as a feedback loop. We find ourselves going around and around in circles, sometimes spiraling completely out of control. At this point we have to stop everything and start over.
None of us are perfect. I think that feeling guilty about getting caught up in these loops can only serve to reinforce them. So I advocate, especially to myself, to take that guilt and set it aside. That guilt is not my essential being. That guilt is a program that can be turned off for the moment. We can silence our monkey minds and open our eyes to the reality of where we are. Is the path you are on taking you where you want to go?
Unlike being on the trail in the wilderness, there is no map of life that we can consult when it feels like we are way off course, lost in the wilderness. These days, with GPS and electronic gadgets in our pockets, we feel like we are in complete control of our destiny. But then the batteries die or the signal is lost and we find ourselves in the middle of the woods with wolves howling on the ridge and no drinking water.
Then we find out what we are truly made of. We can reach into ourselves and find the resources to keep hiking toward the lake, or we can give up and stumble to a paved road to thumb a ride to the nearest Walmart. We can either experience something new and expand, or return to the familiar and contract.
So with this in mind, I take my own imperfect yet perfect step forward.
“When we say “I love the members of my own family, the people of my own religion or country or color” bias limits our affection. But with proper practice, from an ordinary level of affection we can develop an unbiased universal love, in which we don’t care what other people’s faith is, their nationality, or social status – so long as they are human beings, they are our brothers and sisters. “
I have to go to my Sunday morning yoga class. It’s at my friends farm, only a couple of miles from where I live today. That may change soon because I am going through a divorce. But meanwhile I have to go to yoga. My body needs to stretch and move, and I need to chat with my fellow yoga students. I also crave the Amish donuts or other delicious breakfast foods that our gracious hosts serve after the class. They ask for nothing in return for this generosity. Sometimes a student brings an edible offering, like cupcakes or cucumber juice.
We meet at about ten minutes to 10 AM and chat a bit as everyone arrives and parks their vehicles, and then we all shuffle up to the barn loft, where we take off our shoes and unroll our yoga mats on the plywood floor. Then we stand on the mats and start the class. When we start, I have a small moment of panic. Am I going to make it all the way through? My body feels worn out, drained dry of vigor. I grit my teeth and continue.
My body is like a wound up mechanical bird – I compress downward and spring up. My bones are rusted out. I can feel muscles bunching and tensing and my blood is pumping at high pressure through my veins. Maybe I will have a heart-attack right here and die on the floor. What a gift to the class that would be.
But I continue. I move into Downward Dog, then Upward Dog, then Forward Fold, and finally I raise my arms over my head, a little dizzy. My mind is fully focused on how to arrange my body correctly. I don’t even remember to breathe unless our teacher tells me to do so. It feels good to focus on something as basic as movement, instead of the troubles that are clouding my mind these days.
Highland cattle graze peacefully out in a field beyond the open southern door of the loft. A soft moo drifts through the air. There is a gentle breeze that carries a scent of fresh hay and manure. Then it rains hard, a burst of watery bullets pummeling the steel roof. A cacophony outside that mirrors the clamor inside. But I continue, and twist my body into a pretzel.
The twists make me sick. My blood feels thick with toxins. Like I am trying to wring battery acid out of my internal organs. I almost quit, but I don’t. I know if I keep going, I will feel better, I will feel strong again. I have to stoke the prana inside me, to clean out my sluggish nadi. I am told what to do and I do it. I let go of all the grasping in my mind, and simply move.
Toward the end of the class, with sweat beading, hearts beating, and muscles aching, we are guided through slower, gentler poses, ending up on our backs in Savasana. Even as a corpse I am tense. I try to force my body to relax. Finally, sometimes, I give up and simply lay there. Like a fractal, the yoga hour mirrors my whole life.
It dawns on me that I have found a Sangha, a fellowship of friends attempting to create an island of peace in the chaotic seas of our day to day lives. As a Buddhist I’ve sought shelter within the Buddha and the Dharma, but never really within a Sangha. Now, joining this loose collection of neighbors to do yoga one morning a week, I realize how important this practice is for me.
The hot mess within me bows to the hot mess within you.
My very first batch of piglets have arrived. One recent sunny morning I noticed that my bred gilt, a mutt hog bred to a Large Black Hog/Berkshire boar, was laying down and not getting up for breakfast. Then I noticed a bunch of movement around her. Holy crap, I thought, it has happened. It was farrowing morning. She was at day 120 in her gestation, as far as I could tell from my notes. I went and grabbed my coffee and came back to find 5 healthy black little piglets jumping all over the momma, and nursing occasionally. It was beautiful. I did not see the birth but it had happened without event. Soon she passed all of her afterbirth and I felt calm.
The next day it was going to be stormy so I was nervous about their comfort. I set up a simple hog panel shelter, with two metal panels on top. I gave the momma couple more bales of hay right outside the shelter. She had eaten a lot of the hay I had previously given her. Later on in the day she had a great nest built, and I felt more confident that all would be well. After a stormy night I visited her and all the piglets were active and doing well.
Now they are growing in leaps and bounds. Soon I will need to castrate the boys if I choose to do that. I will also have to consider training them into electric fencing within a few weeks. I am very surprised at how robust they are – so small yet so resilient and playful. So many lessons to be learned from the realm of the pig.
In 2010 I started my own permaculture based landscaping business, fell in love, started to raise pigs, bought 39 acres in Western Wisconsin, and moved back to the land on my birthday. In 2011 I got married, and began to learn about the realities of being a homesteader. I started to fall in love with my community. Since then, I’ve been through many things, including fighting a frac sand mine, a terrible fire that burned to death a new flock of our ducklings, a house that leaked heat like a colander, and regulatory issues that almost kept our farm business from functioning. Winds that blew away a hoophouse cover, tractors that broke an axle, freezing cold turkey harvest days that left hands and minds frozen. I pushed myself and constantly suffered injuries; after processing 50 turkeys one day I couldn’t use my right arm for weeks because of an inflamed rotator cuff, I tore my right calf muscles carrying a 50 pound sack of feed and couldn’t walk for days, I fell off some scaffolding and busted up my ribs and couldn’t work for weeks. When I wasn’t incapacitated with pain I learned carpentry and built some structures, including a cabin that was supposed to be a retreat from all of this mayhem. But even that effort was steeped in stress and issues, and it turns out there is much work to do and money to spend to bring this cabin up to a code I didn’t know applied here. In any case, it turns out that wasn’t going to be how the story that begun in 2010 ends.
Instead, I received divorce papers from my wife a few days ago. Suffice it to say, it hasn’t been an easy past few years for either of us. I have never felt the level of stress that I have had in these years, and I certainly didn’t understand, going into this endeavor, how much of a toll it would take on me physically or emotionally, or how quickly it would erode a marriage.
If you are beginning a farm dream with your loved one, I don’t want you to end up in this situation. If you are trying to create a dream without pure communication between you and your partner, it can easily become a nightmare. I have my own issues, my wife has hers, but in terms of us making sense of this life we have lived together, this dream we have pursued together, without an open line of communication, it will all fall apart. If you are not on the same page about your vision and values, at some point they will split apart. You can’t be truly together unless you share yourself 100%, you have to bare your soul, and if your partner can do the same, there is a chance.
Airing dirty laundry is not something I will do here. I am more interested in the lessons to be learned, and the steps to take to grow and evolve. I’m not going to bitch and moan.
I don’t believe there is anybody at fault here in this situation. As human beings we’re all fucked up, to paraphrase the Buddha. For a long while I blamed myself and beat myself up emotionally. But that doesn’t help me grow and evolve into the next stage, and it isn’t particularly pleasant for anybody else around me for that matter. So I would simply like to acknowledge this new turn of events and move on. Everybody has questions but I don’t have many answers, other than a bit of advice. Truly open yourself up to your partner, and if they accept exactly who you are right now, that is true love. It can be romantic, it can be platonic, whatever your relationship is, openess and acceptance is key. How can their be love without those things?
So on this my 37th birthday, my nugget of wisdom forged from the fires of dukkha is to stay open. Don’t close off when the going gets tough. Don’t construct a shell when you feel the need for protection. Stay true to yourself, and be open about what you want and need. Otherwise how the hell can anyone know those things? We may think we are transparent, but in fact we are all mysteries to one another. Unlike the other beasts that roam the planet, we have language that we can use to try and translate the mystery that is I to the mystery that is you. That is a gorgeous beautiful thing about being alive.
After I received those divorce papers, my first piglets were born. Rain poured and wind raged the night after they were born, but with a sold roof and plenty of bedding, along with the warmth and protection of their mother, all five piglets survived and are healthy right now. In fact, they are roaming all over the place already. All endings are sad, but with each we find a new beginning.
Take care of yourselves. Don’t forget to breathe and smell the air.