Tiny barriers

I’m learning things about myself. It’s been kind of a deluge of development, these past few years. Perhaps it’s my stage of life, or the stage humanity/our culture as a whole is in, or a combination of the two? Regardless, I feel like I’m reflecting daily- reckoning between the vision I have of myself and the reality.

One of the things I’ve been meditating on is the idea that sometimes we underestimate the impact of our environments. We look at an area of life where something isn’t working well, and (at least for me) I brainstorm and problem solve and rationalize. Sometimes the barrier I encounter seems small, but the impact is big. It’s in these particular moments that I struggle to accept the limit and change the design.

I think the farm has been really integral in my learning, here. It’s always shifting and changing, and so I am in a kind of perpetual design mode. I hope over time it’ll be more of a fine tuning than an overhaul, but we are still in the early days. As an example, we oriented our big permanent chicken coop with certain design criteria in place. We wanted some southern exposure in the winter, shade in the summer, somewhat close to the house, and we liked that it would connect to the dog’s yard- thinking that he would deter predators. All of that was great and worked, but the position of the coop meant that in order to get bedding in or compost out, someone had to wheelbarrow big loads through two gates and then up a big hill, often with a dog underfoot. What that ended up meaning was a perpetually dirtier coop than I felt good about, just because of the hassle. I’d look at the problem and think “Oh, that’s not that big a deal. I do harder work than that all the time!” …which is true. But the cumulative effect of having designed with those access problems meant what it meant- that we didn’t clean or maintain the space in the way we wanted to. No matter how much I told myself the barrier shouldn’t be a barrier, it still was what it was. Next year, I’ll be implementing a lot more mobile infrastructure (meaning the chickens are moving and the old coop becomes a shed). This shift makes sense on multiple levels, but mainly it gives me the flexibility to learn and adapt rather than be stuck working around or pushing a bad design.

I have collected so many examples of this over the years that it’s become a bit of a study. Obviously there’s room for building skills and developing personal practices that work better. But at what point is it about acceptance of limitations, acknowledgment of capacity, and a willingness to shift and change? We are all designers, here! This is one of the beautiful lessons I’ve learned from permaculture. Why design for unnecessary struggle?

This theme is present in my internal life, too. I’ve talked over the years here about how I’d love to write more, how much I feel I have to share through this medium. And yet, I don’t. There was a time where my writing really flowed, but when I reflect about that time it never makes much sense to me. I was caring for babies, often balancing one on my lap while I wrote. I was running around like crazy with farm shenanigans and co-housing. Heck, half that time I was struggling with complications from a concussion! Looking back at it logically, I shouldn’t have had the time/motivation then, and by now I should be downright prolific. But that’s just not how it is. For years I’ve been fighting with myself, unwilling to accept that this isn’t actually an issue of self-discipline.

Our environments are powerful things. If I were to wager, as just a 38 year old student of life, I’d say these things are 80% environment and 20% personal motivation/skills/wiring etc. I just pulled that out of nowhere, but it feels true to me. On the subject of my writing, I recently stepped back from the problem and realized that I’ve never quite given myself a place to sit and work. I work at my lovely kitchen table, located right in our big open living space. Kids often need my attention, music is being played, friends are galloping through the house, dog is barking… also I see all my other work. The cooking, the cleaning, the farm animals outside. A lovely spot for taking it all in, not so much for allowing the internal flow of writing. And again, I underestimated the ripple effect this might have. Logically it didn’t quite compute for me. I always thought I could muscle around it. But the quality of this kind of task is one that asks for more specific and peaceful conditions. It is what it is!

So the other day I told myself it was time. Time to carve out a space, however imperfectly. The only real quiet and private place is in my bedroom, so I grabbed some scrap wood from the shop, two plastic saw horses from outside, and I made myself a desk under our big eastern window. I cleaned everything up, put up art that I like, added some plants… and guess what? I’ve written more over the past 2 weeks than in the 6 months before it. Interesting, isn’t it? Environment matters.


I’m taking this meditation into other areas of my life this year. Now I’m thinking things like: what kind of impact does this or that tiny barrier *really have*? Maybe not that much, maybe lots. I’m curious.


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