Heroic Chores

Sometimes your animals seem to be plotting a coup and can’t wait to escape their paddocks or break everything in it to bits.

Sometimes every little chore turns into a heroic effort to overcome your own incompetence at the simplest of tasks.

Sometimes you don’t remember why it is you chose to do any of this.

At these points, it is good to take a break from what Robert Pirsig calls the “Gumption Trap”.  Simply put, when we suffer setbacks or hangups, a negative feedback loop can start and spiral out of control.

Whatever you call them, the negative feelings we encounter as we farm are vast and uncharted for the most part – dark tides pull and clouds gather many times in the course of a day or week or year. The assumption in our culture is that the mentally healthy thing to do is to shake off these negative feelings – what Thich Nhat Hanh call mental formations. These formations arise out of our selves, and are like knots that need to be untangled. An essential part of that process is patience.

I see little difference between the various types of formations we create in ourselves  – like a mollusk secreting calcium carbonate around a sharp object . And like a pearl, we can transform our formation into something beautiful if we acknowledge and work on it.

But I will not pretend that it is all chocolate and roses.

There are good parts galore, but plenty of bad times as well.

In the small-scale farming world, one of the most common default reactions is to beat oneself up over perceived inadequacies. It is extremely difficult to find the time to get everything done every day, and so instead of coming to terms with that reality, we end up criticizing ourselves incessantly until we have broken down our own sense of self-worth into tiny bits. This leads to a collapse of meaning in our day to day lives, and turns our actions into repetitive gestures that we perform unconsciously.

The unconscious has more power in our lives then we let on. The Jungian concept of our Shadow Self grows larger and more powerful the less we pay attention to it. Unconscious reactions to perceived hardships become the norm, and everything falls apart. The shit hits the fan and we get covered in it, basically.

How do we approach and work with this deep well of unconscious behavior that continuously builds and deconstructs manifestations of our hopes and fears? I believe the best way we can consciously attempt to knit our diverse mental and physical landscapes together is through the process of individuation, via a whole systems design strategy, utilizing ways of integrating the infinite smaller parts into a finite big picture approach.

It all starts with one small action.

 “If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves.”

-Emily Dickinson