Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How to Know When Enough is Enough

I've always been someone who gets the job done. I wouldn't say I am a perfectionist, nor can I say that I work carefully or in a thoughtful manner. I am the coarse labour. The one who comes up with an absurd idea and slams through the better part of the job in a matter of hours or days once the inspiration strikes. It is almost
painful, and very unnatural for me to slow down, think quietly, measure more than once (if at all!), and finally get to doing. I do and then correct, at best.

I have a scary number of half-finished tasks going on around me. Some from many years ago. I expect I will get back to them all one day. I always seem to. I expect it looks downright crazy for anyone who comes into my home and sees stacks of unfinished (often major) projects on the go. I think I was blessed (or cursed?) with an inability to know what is impossible. I don't see limitations very easily. I can also usually get a pretty realistic handle on how long something will take. I rarely procrastinate (except when I need to do something that involves stillness or quiet). I like to just get 'er done. You'd think this would be a good trait in a mother or a farmer, right?

I also have periodic, regular bouts of extreme fallow-ness as well. I don't do anything but the daily upkeep during these times. Fallow usually refers to a field left unseeded or untended. It can be a time for the field to replenish nutrients, although it is more likely just a field that is left to go wild or that is not being cared for. I like to view my fallow times as times to regenerate and recharge. As the decades have passed, I have become more and more comfortable with allowing these spaces to appear in between my hurried bouts of heavy work. I have come to see that if I don't take these quiet times, I burn out in a hurry and end up needing even more recovery time than I otherwise would have. The trouble with caring for living things is that the jobs are relentless and usually non-negotiable. Things need to get done. So for this reason it has been a struggle to find balance between the endless things needing to get done and the need to slow down once in a while.

This is a time when everyone and their dogs are thinking up some new way to write a tale of an extraordinary year. I am insatiable when it comes to these stories. I try to read them all. The man who didn't use toilet paper for a year. The couple who tried eating only food from around their home. The man who lived literally by the bible for a year. The woman who left her job as a lawyer and sought happiness through a series of projects. There was also that one who traveled the world and ate, prayed and loved her way out of a depression. They all left me wondering what I will do with my own extraordinary year.

I once saw a sign in a doctor's office that said to only seek health in ways that you intend to follow for the rest of your life. What I love about this is that it makes us responsible for our choices in the long term. Health and well-being is not a trend, or about following the latest fad or book. Nor is it a year-long experiment. We will need a lifetime to get this right. So I have come to realize that my particular accomplishment during my year away from work may well be to be quiet and let life find me for a change. There are living things circling all around demanding my immediate attention and if I slow down, take a breath and put one foot in front of the other, I can attend to their urgent needs without leaving myself behind. And feel very satisfied while doing it.

In this sense, the farm has become a sort of meditation maze. I can't extend myself in high gear because the number of tasks around me are unlimited. I think that university and the kind of employment I was doing always had a beginning, middle and end. A goal would be set and at the end of some time period there would be the satisfaction when the project was completed. Yet, high gear is not something anyone should be expected to maintain or sustain.

I have even found that setting goals can be a futile endeavour around here. Any agenda is surely going to be side-swiped by the reality of the elements be they the moon, or my 2 year old's mood of the day. I have come to be okay with this. I feel blessed with it actually. It takes me out of that state of just 'gettin 'er done' and into a more peaceful place of letting things be. My hands are moving, my heart is observing, and my head is left out of the equation altogether. I trust in each moment that I will find the best thing to do with my time, and I do it.

Farming and parenting have one huge thing in common. There is no end to the work. Everywhere I look, there is more to do, more guilt to be found, more improvements needed (usually more in the parent than the children), more unfinished business, more things needing food or water. I could race around in a frenzy day after day waiting for that feeling of completion or satisfaction to arrive. Instead, there is only the subtle, hanging belief that I am part of something bigger than me. That I have contributed to something important with my day and I will get up and do it again the next day. The result is something that is alive and a work in progress. The progress report is measured only in health and happiness.

And this is something that I intend to keep up for a lifetime.

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