This week I have had that old and misunderstood teacher, pain, in my life. This time it came in the form of an old piece of oak and a table saw. As good teachers ought to, pain pointed out my stupidity but did so not in a condescending way; my lesson was learned in a split second and by my own hand. I have no excuse, which was the lesson taught.
I have all of my fingers and they all will work normally but for the time being I have thirteen stitches in two of them (nine in my index an four in my thumb). I took the test and failed. However, failure is as it always is, a chance to learn. My Renshi, pain, has not let me down and I have learned; if only I can remember when the lesson is finished.
A teacher and a student are one in the same, but a teacher sometimes needs a reminder that they are a student as well. I’m not sure what lesson Master Pain has learned. My lesson has been one of trust: do not do it with machinery and wood! I have an old adage: comfort is your enemy, and there is another one: familiarity is a teacher of men.
My lesson is all bandaged up now and the learning process has started. Flashbacks of my lesson continue, I cringe, and I type with eight fingers for the time being but the lesson came at a cheap cost. Pain is unforgiving, straightforward, and honest as all good teachers should be. And I am thankful as all understanding students come to be.
Motivated by sheer will and some curiosity mixed with a dose of virtue and the endless misunderstanding of truth the path became home. The roots he had dug up so many times, he carried in his bag which was by now old and worn by the mistakes that he’d made. And it was with these misgivings that the man turned around and considered his past for the first time in his life.
Never noticing it before, it was nevertheless worn from wear. Like a shiny piece of metal washed many times and never found, it was clean…almost luxuriously so. The past mirrored the man as he looked into it’s shiny, blank sheen; not so much did it offer up memories, but misgivings as to what could have been compared to what had been.
The past, he found, was not full of memories, but of imaginative vagueness and ample insecurities.
“Had I only known…”
The sentences formed in his head and his imagination finished them thoroughly and almost automatically. It was as if he had no control over his past.
“But it is mine,” he thought.
“This is my past!”
However, the metal simply stood its ground; the past would have none of his illusions. Stamped in metal by his own meanderings the man realized he no longer owned what he had done, what he had been.
Looking around for an explanation, there was none.
Searching for answers to the puzzle that the past posed, he found none.
“There must be, though; the past is mine. IT’S MINE!!”
But the metal dripped in apathy as the man slowly realized that it was only the tears and he put the past back into his pocket.
There are rituals that we all seem to abide by often without knowing it. These rituals seem so inconspicuous when we are alone but when guests come, or when they are otherwise interrupted, they show themselves in unusual ways. If we work away from the home we tend to enjoy the workplace just a little more; or when we work at home we notice the rituals and how they are being poked at, if just a little.
This is nothing against the guests in our houses; they are welcome and enjoyed. But the little rituals in our lives are, well, just a little put out. If you have pets, especially a dog, you probably notice this. However, when our own rituals must be put on hold, the dog’s perspective doesn’t seem that strange. We, like our pets, live by rituals.
The ritual itself doesn’t really matter, it is not the ritual act that counts. Rather it is the act of having a ritual that seems important. We do things in a certain way, at a certain time. Personally, I notice this when my early morning coffee ritual is changed (read “interrupted”). Coffee itself is a ritual, not just the need and desire for caffeine. Coffee in the morning and a beer (or two) at night are explicit rituals, but what about those small, inane rituals that our lives are filled up with?
We do not notice the small moments in our lives when we are in the middle of living them. It is only when we are reminded of them that they matter. Perhaps rituals are not unlike our past: they are made and then remembered? Perhaps Hume and other philosophers are right when they state that we are nothing but a collection of memories? This may be the case, but if so then the memories themselves are rituals incognito.
In September, work changes from input to output; that is, canning starts and thoughts of “processing” any animals, the euphemism for killing and cutting up animals, starts sneaking in. Winter work plans are on the back burner; the shop needs a cleaning, planting winter rye and watching the hens scratch it up. Trying to get the newly cut oak posts in the ground (around the garden to keep the hens out) while the ground is still able to be dug in.
Fall kale and beets planted and the greenhouse is closed at night. The trees are turning and as the leaves think about falling, thoughts of last minute winterization roll around in the head. The fall, for some reason, seems to be the starting point when some assess the year past and compare it to the year to come. This comparison is important and painful all at the same time. What we did wrong and what we can do better; the time we wasted and the time coming to make it up.
We stay busy; we are busy and we will be busy. It really doesn’t matter what we do but it seems that a lot of us do. I wonder…what is the comparison in our busy lives? Were we busy last year? Should we be busier next year? Does being busy make us better or just tired? Are we busy working or just busy being busy? There is one other thing that we should compare: time, and how much of it we have used and how much of it we might have left.
But none of this matters to the trees that turn, the canning that continues, and garden that continues growing. Time will churn and we will be busy turning the crank.
The word “adventure” conjures up fun and excitement, endless activities and wide-eyed happiness coupled with friendly unknowns. And while this is true, it is true like most things concerning human life are true: partly. In coffee shops around the world people sit sipping coffee and munching scones, talking about what they “would do” if given the chance; but they never do it. Perhaps, the adventure is already alive, but waiting for us to act upon it.
In the fifty or so years that I have been alive I have travelled to some forty countries, lived in four states, travelled throughout the lower forty eight, been a truck driver, a musician, and a college teacher. I have climbed mountains and trekked the Annapurnas in Nepal, eaten curry in Calcutta, and a Vietnamese sandwich in north and south Vietnam. I have drank instant coffee in a cave high up on the sides of mountains in places that I can’t name and have believed that cup of coffee to be the best I’d ever had. I have drank beer in more pubs than I can count in England and eaten Bratwurst in Germany, spaghetti dinners in Italy, drank Belgian beers in Belgium, meatballs in Sweden, and enjoyed the beaches in Denmark as well as wine in France and crabs in Norway. I am a homesteading farmer and carpenter at present and those activities present me with even more adventures.
This is all to say that the adventures that I have experienced are life: there are good and bad times, boring times, scary times, frustrating and irritating times. There are times when a cup of coffee at a well known coffee shop, surrounded by suburbanites in a “safe” neighborhood is an adventure and there are times when scaling a peak at 13000 feet is an adventure: I’ve tried both and while the feelings are different, they can both get interesting.
An adventure is carved out of the experiences that we have while living. The only time we miss out on adventures is when we choose not to do something because we are afraid, or tired, or lazy. Sometimes an adventure can be had sipping a cup of coffee and sometimes we need to put the cup down and do something. The adventure starts when we know what to do and when to do it.
Decisions need to be made; action needs to be taken. But, what to do, and why? This is a common dilemma, one which most of us face at least a time or two in our lives. These decisions, the “big” ones, often change the course of our lives, leading us to exulted happiness or dark bouts of regret.
At the one end, the decisions we are faced with are dilemmas of Grand Canyon dimensions, and on the other end they are but a fragment of dust in a vast universe. It is our perspective that makes them greater or lesser important, and respectively more easily or harder to make.
We are told to follow our heart, but there is a price to be paid for doing such impractical things. We are told to think things through, but then the rewards seem to be much less bright. Our hearts and minds seem to be in a constant battle, but this is not necessary.
We can follow our hearts while being practical, in fact our hearts are much more fulfilled when the practicality of our decisions is clear. The practicality of our lives becomes much more bright when we add splashes of color to our dreary necessities.
This is all to say that decisions will be the same, but the road we take to come to them may differ. Sometimes we follow our heart and it leads us to the necessary practicality to fulfill the hearts desires. Sometimes we lead with our minds and soon find that life is too dreary without dreams.
It is difficult to wake up every morning and face the day, knowing that something that you will do will…fail. But, this is inevitable; no matter what we do: we will fail. Failure is a source of stress and frustration, anger and sadness; failure builds like a bomb inside of us and weighs down upon our shoulders. Failure is physical.
But fail we will. Some call failure an opportunity and others call failure a learning adventure, but when we lay our heads down at night to fall into a fitful sleep it is failure that we feel, it is that deep feeling that we did not quite make the grade. This feeling of failure starts early and is experienced often.
This much is true; this much is the case and it must be the case. But why do we fail? This was a question that has been posed for eons and answers are many. We fail because we do not try; we fail because we do not believe in ourselves; we fail because we have been told we will fail; we fail because we tell ourselves we will fail; we fail because to many anything less than perfection is failure.
Anything less than perfection is failure? I have been a full time farmer for approximately a year and if I did not know that perfection is an illusion, then farming has taught me the hard lesson that it is, in fact, illusory. We can gnash our teeth and pull our hair out; we can cry and obsess; we can wail and scream at the gods or we can remember that we should never let the perfect…be the enemy of the good.*
*Sam Harris: Waking up
Sometimes we long after times that are gone, things that will not come to pass, and futures that are certain. But we all know that these things are illusions. Time passes and we all have different ways of noticing this. Some of us stare at clocks on the wall or time displays in the corners of our screens. Some of us count the nights and days, the weeks and perhaps the months. I used to count time by the summer breaks I had. It all works.
But time passes no matter what we do and we can only do with time what we decide to do with time; time will pass. In the past I’ve watched time start with new seedlings and time continue with new plants in the garden. I’ve watched time pass with the coming cold in the air and with the smell of beer brewing; kale boiling and the smell of canning the summer’s crop.
Those times are past and are yet to come. Those times cycle through even if we do not notice them. Sometimes our time is spent in the past, looking out over the horizon that darkens with every waking day. That does not help. It does help to think of the possibilities that the future holds. Perhaps that we people garden.
With a small container and some soil we seed the future; the past seems not to matter. With water we nourish our hopes; regrets seem forgone. With soil we reminded that the past is nothing more that possible futures. It is, after all, where we come from and where we eventually will come to.
Dreams are interesting endeavors. They are experiments more than anything. But, can pursuing a dream be a mistake? As mentioned in a previous post, it is hard to remember your goal when you are in the middle of it all. To answer that rhetorical question: I’m not sure that pursuing a dream can be a mistake.
Think about it: a dream is an experiment; the goal is (at best) unknown and even perhaps undefined. Pursuing a dream, therefore, can never be a mistake. Pursuing that dream is always worth it, but it must be remembered that dreams may not be what you think they are.
Sometimes dreams will enlighten, and most of the time they will be frustrating. Sometimes dreams clarify even if they are never achieved in full. All of these possibilities are in a way necessities because having a dream itself is a necessity. Imagine what life would be without dreams.
You must give up things to pursue dreams, but those things are often vague and easily given up, at least in the beginning. In dreams, mistakes will be made, but it is never a mistake to pursue your dreams.
In Denmark there is a term, “sort penge”, which translated directly means “black money”. Now black money is simply a transaction (in cash) that the two parties implicitly understand will not be taxed in any way. In Denmark this is a bit of a joke, especially to farmers up north.
Where I live there is a similar phenomenon but it goes by no name. However, it is still implicitly understood. What I’ve learned from this is that we are being told lies: it is not all about money. Money is a means to an end and the oldest form of money is barter. I’ve found that in the country no one has money, they say, but how much do we really need money and why?
First, money is necessary, but only in a society where there are people that are not self-sufficient. Perhaps the advent of cities necessitates money. Secondly, money is addictive; it makes our lives easy and easy is addictive. Third, as I have found out money is not always needed.
“You can ‘loan’ my sander. I might come up and use it every once in a while…”
“I’ve got a portable mill and can mill up those nice oak logs for you…”
“Maybe I can introduce you to…”
“Tim knows a guy who needs a door built…”
And so it goes. I am reminded that while we do need money in today’s modern society, it sometimes takes over the really important things, like the need for each other.