Saturday, March 28, 2009

Gardening and the Ability to Be Here Now

I started my garden today. What a job. I'm planning a 10'x20' garden plot. Probably going to make it a salad garden. If all goes according to my plan. But jeesh! Breaking ground is a tremendous amount of work. There are so many roots, rocks, branches and such that it is such slow going. I hope I have what it takes to stick with it. Otherwise the pain I caused my knees using the spade to dig was for nothing, right?

Well...maybe not. I have been kind of rethinking how I approach my life lately. See, for so many years I have been focused on the end product of anything that I do or produce. If the end product isn't going to be something special, then I haven't really wanted to put in the effort to do whatever it is. I think it's that New England, Puritanical work ethic thing rearing its ugly head. Don't get me wrong, I value a strong work ethic. I think its an important way for a person to find a purpose in life. But sometimes...every now and then...I think that maybe, just maybe, there is tremendous value in just BEING.

This is not exactly a new concept for me either. It's just one that I am revisting I guess you would say. When I was in college all those years ago, part of the Core curriculum was an Outward Bound-type experience called "La Vida." All students were required to go on La Vida or take the equivalent course as a weekly gym class. As anyone who knows anything about Outward Bound knows, there is much camping, hiking, bush whacking, cooking over open fires, eating of "gorp" (good ole raisins and peanuts), rock climbing, rapelling, partaking of nature, reflection, and an extreme lack of showers or toilet paper.

One of the first things we had to do before we left for the trip was to agree to leave behind all signs of iPods(back then they were walkmans), no cell phones, no watches, no radios. The reason for this? To make sure that we were experiencing our lives in the moment. The idea of La Vida is to slow down and take time to reflect on what is happening in your life right now. My particular group had a motto, "Be Here Now." All these years later, I still remember it. I still try to remind myself to Be Here Now. I don't remember the names of the "sherpas" or leaders we had for our trip (Pam and Larry maybe?), but I remember the motto. I remember enjoying the La Vida experience thoroughly. I remember buying into what they were saying lock stock and barrel.

For that trip, I was a lonely, overweight young woman who truly felt that she was part of a group for once. The others that were in my group (Mike, Jack, Rick, for some reason I don't remember the girls though...interesting...)included me. I didn't feel like an outsider for once. I was not in great shape. I know I slowed everyone down, but I loved the outdoor experience.

We hiked for miles as part of that group, carrying 50lbs in our backpacks. Sometimes we were on marked trails, but sometimes we were not. Sometimes we had to hack through bushes, bramble, and thorns, hoping that at least one of us knew how to use a map and compass. Thankfully, Jack was an Eagle Scout if I remember correctly. He was very confident about making his way through the bush as I recall. The only thing that seems odd to me is the pairing of my memory of Jack as an Eagle Scout with another memory of him...getting hypothermia...and having to be warmed up...or did he volunteer to help warm the other member of our group up? I believe it was one of the other young women in the group...hmmmm....

I remember Mike Fink. He waxed very philosophic. He also reminded me of John Cusack in "Say Anything," because he refused to say what he was going to be after college. He didn't know and didn't want to go on job interviews to try to prove to human resources at Company X that their company was "THE" company for him. He didn't drink the kool aid. He didn't want to buy anything sold or processed, sell anything bought or processed or process anything bought or sold. I admired that in him and I wonder where he is now and what he is doing these days. Did he finally relent and drink the kool aid or is he somewhere living a fabulously free life?

And I remember Rick. Rick was a music major. He seemed to want to dabble in a lot of things. He had a lot of different interests. Mostly women it seemed. But he liked to read, he liked to be out in nature (I think), and he loved music. He helped me deal with a lot of the physical challenges of LaVida by singing with me. He was friendly, and could at times be really funny. I remember him singing "Don't worry be happy" at a campfire. We somehow altered the lyrics in some cute way I don't remember very well and co-opted the song for our group for the trip.

I remember a part of the trip we had to do without our guides or "sherpas." We had to find some campsite with the clues that they left for us. We found said campsite, pitched camp, and started our own private rituals for relaxing. I remember deciding it was a beautiful night and that I was going to sleep out under the stars. I laid all my things out...put down my ground cloth and sleeping bag. I remember talking with Mike who made himself a little ditch to put his sleeping bag looked pretty snuggly. So he went to sleep in his little cocoon in the ditch and I fell into my exhausted slumber under the starry night sky...and woke up to the cruelest, iciest rain I can ever remember. It felt like the sky literally opened up its wrath on me alone. I was freezing...and I started crying immediately. It was awful. My friend Mike fared no better except he didn't cry. His sleeping bag became drenched as it was, as we said earlier, in a ditch. Said ditch filled with rain. Icy rain.

I remember our "solo" experience. For part of La Vida we had to be by ourselves in the wilderness. We could only have a journal, a pen, a whistle, a canteen of water, and our Bible. We were supposed to reflect on things. To think, to sleep, to read. To "Be Here Now." I loved having that time. I looked at the rain on spiderwebs, I read a bit of the Bible (don't remember which passages), and I wrote. I still have the journal somewhere back home in all my stuff.

I remember a twelve mile hike during which...we were supposed to run, but I was not in good walking was the best I could manage for most of it. I remember that Jack and Rick promised me a steak dinner if I ran the last five miles (so if you are out there somewhere Jack and Rick, you still owe me). I ran those last five. But not really for the steak dinner. I ran because they convinced me I could. I ran because I wanted to be part of the group. I ran because I could "Be Here Now" and screw the aches and pains I would feel later.

I don't know if Mike, Rick, Jack or any of the other members of my group remember any of this. Maybe they do. Maybe I made some kind of impression on them. Maybe I didn't. Who knows. But I DO know that they reinforced for me the importance of enjoying the moment you are in. Of valuing doing something for the sake of itself. That sometimes, the end product doesn't really matter. Sometimes, just doing something because you want to is good enough.

So, if my garden doesn't produce a bumper crop, don't be sad for me. All the work of cutting roots out, of digging up stones and moving earth will still be worth it. I will lay a layer of compost, mix it in with a layer of manure, and seed and weed. I will water, debug, and put up fences to keep the rabbits and deer out. I will do all the things you are supposed to when you garden, but I think I will do them for the enjoyment I feel while doing them. If we are able to actually eat salad from the garden, so much the better. But that will not be my goal. My goal, I think, will be to enjoy working with my hands, to feel the sun on my neck, and to savor the exhaustion that comes from working hard.

My five things:

1.)I am glad that winter is finally over
2.) I am grateful that my body is capable of stooping, bending, digging, moving
3.) I am grateful to feel the warmth of the sun, even if it is only briefly
4.) I am grateful for this moment
5.)I am grateful for the ability to do, feel and say

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