We are in the most infant of days with our new life project: to become farmers. As you can imagine, the most important relationship a farmer must cultivate is that with Nature. When we combine our relationship with Nature and our relationship with our eight-point practice, there is no end to the synergy of lessons learned and influences given, one to the other and vice versa. Easwaran's Words to Live By book (his Thoughts for the Day) offers example after example of this synergy and helps to reassure us that we are on the right path. We have found that the activities of farming, the lifestyle of farming, in the manner that we are going about it, lends itself very well to the daily and constant practice of the eight points.
Logan and Geer share how their practice of the eight-point program is helping them in many ways, big and small, as they start a new farm.
try to start each day with meditation, although, as with most people, sometimes
things come up and meditation gets pushed back a little later into the morning.
As farmers, we are no longer bound by clock time, but by daylight time. Our
goal is to wake up early enough to be done meditating by the time dawn arrives
so that we can let the chickens out when there is enough daylight to deter
On cold mornings, this goal is not always met and then things can get a little wibbly wobbly. The chickens must be let out, most often a simple task, but sometimes unforeseen issues arise that must be dealt with immediately, such as discovering that part of the electric fence blew down. Meditation gets pushed back a little more. We fix the fence and go inside to meditate to find that our elderly dog has had an accident on the floor. Meditation is delayed a bit more. Easwaran's advice to get up and meditate as early as possible, before things start to happen, is simple, but very important, as we've learned!
Yet whether we do it first thing in the morning or second, third or fourth thing in the morning, daily meditation sets the tone for the rest of the day, preparing us to face any challenges that arise in a calm(er), (more) slowed down way.
Repeating the Mantram
At a few retreats we’ve been at in Tomales, we’ve had an opportunity to practice “mantram in Nature.” This is simply the practice of going outside to immerse oneself, to whatever extent possible, in Nature whilst repeating the mantram. This can be a very relaxing and rejuvenating experience and can allow a person to connect with and notice Nature in a different way. Our work on the farm takes place mostly outdoors, so the opportunities for mantraming in Nature are prolific and can bring vigor to mundane tasks such as carting around mulch or cutting straw for the compost. The mantram is perfect for rhythmic activities such as shoveling and raking and makes wandering around the pecan grove searching for nuts even more enjoyable.
Of course, the mantram is also very handy when farm-related injuries or mishaps occur. Our property is on the cusp of west Texas and most plants here have thorns not to mention the many sharp objects left scattered about by previous, less environmentally conscious generations. The mantram can be employed multiple times a day after being stuck by a cactus or mesquite spine, and multiple times a week when a chicken or dog decides it would like to get adventuresome.
This one is a biggy around here. We named our farm Low Gear Farmstead, partly to imply the slowed down life that we aim to lead. Easwaran quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson in Words to Live By as saying, “Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.” Boy, is this true. We are not fast paced people by nature, but a realization that was made very quickly is that you cannot, nor should you attempt to, rush Nature. The seeds will sprout when it is time, the hens will lay when it is time. This attitude of allowing Nature to set the pace extends to other aspects of starting the farm, helping us to realize the wisdom in starting small, slow, and simply. The scope of our dreams and ideas for this farm are broad and numerous and it is tempting at times to try and begin many projects at once. After all, we have such great ideas! Easwaran also quotes Epictetus, “Nothing great is created suddenly, anymore than a bunch of grapes or a fig.” And just like the development of the farm and our baby fig trees, Easwaran then reminds us that, “all true spiritual development takes place little by little.”Slowing down is also useful in cultivating detachment. We may have certain plans for something, but Nature has a way of imposing her own plans. We planted a winter garden because in Texas it normally doesn't get much below freezing for very many days. Well, we had four consecutive days of temperatures in the low teens just after our seeds began to sprout. We also had to be detached during this time about having running water since the pipes all froze. Issues like no running water would be seen as a disaster in a city, but here where life is slower, it is just another inconvenience, slowing us down even further.
We have read more than once that to be successful farming in the manner we are going about it (permaculture based), great attention to detail is necessary. Since all our labor will be non-mechanized, that is, manual, we have the capacity to give more attention to individual plants and animals in our care. We can replant a single seed where a sprout died in the frost, though the one next to it survived. We can observe our flock of chickens and notice if a single bird has a problem. We can take special care of our lame hen when, in a large-scale operation, that would be impossible. This method of farming lends itself to one-pointed attention and, in fact, cannot succeed without it.
Since moving to the farm and being more immersed in Nature, we have noticed that one-pointed attention comes a bit more easily. The distractions of an urban environment do not exist and we are living more simply in general. On the other hand, the intricacies of this place and what we want to accomplish on it can be overwhelming and make it difficult to focus on a direction. After all, we've never done this before, and hardly know what we're doing! Giving attention to our basic needs and those of our animals helps to guide us and keep us more one-pointed.
Training the Senses
is another point that seems to come more easily by way of the necessity to live
more simply. We don't have access to high-speed internet or television, so not
much effort is needed to control our media intake (although we do get a slow
internet connection on our phones and must be wary of the time-wasting that can
happen when waiting for a Facebook page to load). More time is spent reading
informative books and playing music instead of on the internet – Training the Senses goals that have been made easy by our relocation to the farm. The same
goes with what we eat. The local grocery store is tiny and at best contains the
necessities. There are few things there to tempt us. Rather, if we want
something, we must make it ourselves or wait for it to grow, again, just like
We have also found that with fewer distractions and an ever-clearer, ever more defined purpose, our desires become more focused. Why are we surprised? Easwaran tells us this is what happens. But geez, it sure is still hard to get out of bed in the cold, dark morning.
Putting Others First
This point has both broad and specific applications in our farm context. Broadly, one of the concepts that drove us to choose this path is that we believe that small-scale, sustainable, permaculture based farming is a vital part of the present and future well-being of our natural environment, and, therefore, our species. As we begin to grow healthy, nurturing food for ourselves and others, we will concurrently enrich the soil, revitalize the land, create wildlife habitat, increase biodiversity, and store carbon. Just as each of the eight points compliments the others, so should each of our goals and activities on the farm produce benefits for other aspects of life. As Easwaran tells us, “The science of ecology teaches us that everything in the universe is connected... We are not separate fragments. Like all the animals and plants, we depend on each other and the environment.”
On a more specific and intimate level, we get to practice putting others first each day as we care for our flock, two dogs, two kittens, and of course, each other. Putting the needs of our animals first shapes our days and decisions. Putting the needs of each other first helps to fill our days with love, when they might otherwise be filled with frustrations or feelings of inadequacy. Since it's just the two of us, fairly isolated from the rest of society, these needs are perhaps thrown into sharper relief and therefore sometimes easier to recognize.
This may seem obvious – two people, living together, working together, meditating together, practicing the eight points together – of course we have spiritual fellowship. This is true, and again, like the previous examples, our situation has made this point somewhat simple. But there is also more to it than that. It is also a challenge that it is only the two of us. Two is better than one when it comes to spiritual fellowship, but more is even better, and as far as we are aware, the nearest passage meditators are about three hours away (but hey! If you're ever passing through central Texas, let us know!) Virtual satsang opportunities, more and more of which the BMCM is creating, have been a wonderful supplement to our micro-spiritual household.
Then there is the more subtle spiritual fellowship that comes with living so closely to Nature. It's why camping, hiking and the like can be so spiritually fulfilling. It's why mantram in Nature can be so relaxing and rejuvenating. Because, as ecology teaches us, everything is connected, being immersed in Nature can help us sense that unity underlying all of life just a little bit more clearly. Spiritual fellowship seems to be possible not only with other meditators, but also with a chicken, or a river, or a sunrise.
Tying in to the previous point, we can also experience spiritual fellowship with the mystics themselves by doing some spiritual reading. We read Easwaran's Thought for the Day from Words to Live By every morning following meditation and it has been our goal to try and do a little spiritual reading aloud before going to sleep at night. This doesn't happen every night, but it happens a few times a week, and is a wonderful way to wrap up the day. It can be incredible when we read something that ties right into something that happened to us that day or that we have been thinking about. Sometimes it seems as though the mystics are reading our minds. As mentioned at the beginning of this writing, Words to Live By is peppered with examples of the synthesis of Nature and our spiritual practice. It has been one of the privileges of this new life trajectory to begin to experience this much more often.
If we have made this life of beginner farmers sound idyllic and perfect, we must include this disclaimer here in our closing, that while it is idyllic in so many ways, it is also rife with constant challenges, setbacks, minor emergencies (no major ones yet), inconveniences, frustrations, discomforts, losses, and conundrums. These things can pile up rather quickly, making it quite clear to us personally, daily, that without meditation and the other seven points, we probably wouldn't still be here at the farm, trying to do what we're trying to do. Om mani padme hum, y'all.