Every morning as I’m putting on my coat and boots I have a moment of resistance that I work through. The not-so-distant memory of my bed, that warm fire, the coffee scent that’s beginning to emanate, the unflattering “but why me?” thoughts that seem to follow me around in life like a buzzing fly…
And yet, every single morning, I find myself in the midst of these chores practically bursting in praise of this life. I kid you not- the joy seems to increase as the chores become more daunting! Freezing temperatures, lugging water in buckets around to all the animals, the sharp cold on my cheeks, the way my fingers and toes reach their threshold just before I finish… it’s as though the contrast illuminates my gratitude in a matter of minutes.
This phenomenon feels profound to me in part because I can’t seem to get on top of it. At this point I know that, consistently, I will feel profound satisfaction upon having concretely and simply served this place and the lives I touch. At the same time, I seem equally bound to the shadow side, unable to elevate my mind out of those doubting and self-pitying initial thoughts. I think back to that moment of resistance and I realize that part of what’s going on is that I always reach a place where I’m willing to go out and take care of the animals even if it’s miserable. And when I put on those boots, I’m heaving a sigh and saying to myself “wah wah, blah blah, but whatever Grace- you need to do these chores anyway.” My true service seems to be born out of my personal surrender to it. And of course this would be true, no? I find this in so many other areas of my life (Hello motherhood/birth/marriage/etc.). How nice is it to have your feelings match up neatly with everything, but what compels us when that’s not part of the deal? What binds us to any of it when that ease is unavailable?
I think I wanted to share this today because of something I heard Wendell Berry say on an interview I was listening to recently. He said “We don’t have a right to ask whether we’re gonna succeed or not. The only question we have a right to ask is ‘What’s the right thing to do? What does this earth require of us if we want to continue to live on it?’” It seems to me that this little exercise I do each day is giving me a clue as to what is really meant here. To fully let go of the outcome, to pour yourself into something because it’s what the universe asks of you. In these particular situations I sense that the spiritual opportunities are vast, but also they can’t be hacked or taken from a place that needs the assurance of personal gain.
What’s so beautiful about this, and I think the thing that catapults it out of an ordinary uhhhh-so-what-if-you-gave-water-to-the-animals situation and into a wow-what-is-this-life-I’m-awed-and-it’s-only-8-am kind of situation, is that the moment allows me to be briefly held by the universe in a way that I really long for. I’m not entirely sure I understand it or my need for it, but I think it’s made up in part by a kind of existential relief. If I can routinely get hit in the head with a blissed out awe for life in these contexts, what does that say about the nature of reality? What kind of generosity exists that these things so regularly come together for me, through no design of my own? I think I must belong to this, and it brings about a profound sense of peace. I heard the following two quotes in this podcast, and they feel relevant here.
“When in gratitude, the desire to be of service is absolutely present.”
“Another dimension of gratitude is that it breaks loneliness. It acknowledges your relationship with life and its gifts.”
So, if perhaps there is an essential link between surrender of self and service, and an essential link between service and gratitude, and then an essential link between gratitude and the breaking of our loneliness through the acknowledgment of our connectedness to something bigger than ourselves, and then through that acknowledgment we are compelled to loosen ourselves and serve again… Well, all of that in some morning farm chores and you can color me blissfully overwhelmed.