From Stress to Serenity

Using my foot to push off the column holding up my front porch, I rocked myself in the hammock. Not one of those lay-down kind of hammocks. It was one of the swinging chair types that hangs from above and in which you are sat more upright.

I loved sitting out there and swinging gently in the hammock, on our front porch, where I could see people pass by on the sidewalk and watch my yellow flag float up with each breeze, unraveling and showing the smiley face printed on it.

It was where I’d spend my free time, my relaxing time when there wasn’t anything to do.

Come to think of it, it’s been a while since there wasn’t anything to do. Ever since we bought the farm, there has been lots to do. More than one man, or even one whole family, can do. At least not in a timely manner or not in such a way that it doesn’t seem like the to-do list is growing faster than our ability to complete the tasks.

It stressed me the fuck out at first. I was trying to stay on top of everything and bring into being the vision I had for our land.

Still, with five separate structures on the property, bountiful cultivated flora including twenty different fruit trees, and nearly fifty chickens, something was always breaking, springing a leak, or needing some care and attention.

As soon as I fixed the leak in the roof, the chickens stopped producing eggs because they had gotten mites. By the time I learned how to clean that mess up so the little bugs stopped sucking their blood and they were relaxed enough to lay eggs again, the weeds had grown so high that I needed to cut them before I could get back to thinking about where I would put the new irrigation lines for the fruit forest we were envisioning.

It’s OK now though. I’ve let go of the ideas and ideals of urban and even suburban life, the ones that were still in me when I escaped the city and moved to the countryside on a mountain in Maui.

They were ideas like finishing things, getting to the end of something, and bringing order to things that would stay for a while.

Permanence is a fiction we unlearn either when we dive deep into Eastern wisdom or when we leave the protective garb of the city behind and expose ourselves to the ever-changing nature of nature.

Escaping the city is an idea that one of my early clients gave me.

He had a recruiting company in London that would help city workers leave jobs they were burnt out by and find more meaningful work. Like a banker turned charity fundraiser or helping an operations manager for an oil company find a similar role, but with more meaning and alignment of their values in a social enterprise.

When we joined forces, I helped him create what he called the Escape School. The central idea taught in this school was that the city is not just a place where you have a job.

It is a way of thinking and seeing the world. First, you quit your job and become an entrepreneur and then, over the months and years that follow, you realize you’ve taken so many of the assumptions and ways of working with you into self-employment.

You discover the only thing worse than having a boss, is being your own boss.

That fucker is always there, in the evenings, on weekends, too. You can’t get away from them until you walk away again, but this time on the inside instead of the outside.

The day you stop bossing yourself around is the day you truly and finally leave employment. 

It was the same here, this place we call Happy Farm.

Once I was carrying rocks up the hill on our land. They were rocks that had rolled down from a stone wall due to erosion. At the same time I was listening to an audiobook by the French author and philosopher Albert Camus and right there, while I was carrying rocks up the hill, I found myself learning for the first time about the myth of Sisyphus.

This was the Greek God, who for illegally attempting immortality, was punished with the task of carrying a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down when it got to the top.

It was uncanny that this story had come to me while carrying rocks up the hill.

It is synchronicities like these that remind me of Einstein’s remarks that God doesn’t play dice with the universe.

Randomness speaks into being a dead world, a world without beauty or depth to it. I choose a world in which a story about Sisyphus comes to me while carrying rocks for good reason. It is the synchrony of the police siren with the flashing lights. Together, especially when you are in the dark, they are sure to capture your attention.

What that siren call alerted me to is the perfection of my never-finishing what I’ve started here on Happy Farm.

Not only will I never fully realize my vision for our home and land, because the time between now and then lends too much space for creativity and expansion of vision, but also because things will break, decay, and die on the journey from here to there too, and I’ll be forever busy fixing things, removing things, replacing things, and keeping things alive, and collecting and harvesting things that return.

Even abundance is a bitch.

I dreamed of having fruit trees and now I’ve got fruit falling on the ground and rotting. Citrus, avocados, macadamia nuts, strawberries…all going to waste.

Or so I thought, being a suburbanite for most of my life.

For shit’s sake, I didn’t even know that fruit came in seasons until I was in my twenties. There were apples and strawberries all year round in the supermarket when I grew up.

They were just as consistently available as the pop-tarts and rice krispies.

Nothing distinguished their availability and I never thought about it much, until I did. And then it was obvious. But it wasn’t until it was, and that’s always the thing. Nothing is obvious to us until it is and there isn’t anything wrong with this.

It’s not our fault that we don’t know where the meat comes from that we eat. I don’t mean where in the world, I mean where on the animal or even sometimes which animal it is. We have different names for the animals and the food we eat that comes from them, not in the least to create some distance from the bloody fact. 

It wasn’t always like this, I hear. My parents tell me of their childhood how their grandparents grew their own food and how they would go grab a chicken from the backyard and ring its neck for dinner. It wasn’t a rare thing.

One hundred years ago, nearly everyone grew and raised at least a good portion of their own food.

But fucking hell, in a short time we have come a very long way from that. So far from it I had not a clue how to grow food. I mean, I knew the basic principle, but I’d never done it. Maybe it happened in school at some point, a kind of science experiment with a seed, but never had I attempted it with any genuine interest or attention. 

But as I was sitting there in the hammock, swinging myself with my foot bouncing off the column, and looking at my bare empty front yard tiled with square cement slabs that had crushed stones beneath and between them, I imagined what it would be like to start farming now, here, before I had my house on a hill in Hawaii, where we would grow our own food and live the new dream life we were creating with our imagination and action. 

“I’m going out!”, I shouted down the hall to my wife.

“OK, where are you going?” 

“To the shop to buy some pots and soil and seeds.”

There was silence, but I could tell she was trying to make sense of what I’d just said. The only pots she’d seen me with were the house plants I’d gotten for my office that had all died since I’d forgotten to water them. 

A couple of hours later, I was back in front of my porch, pouring bags of soil into large ‘growing bags’, which I was told would be better than pots for growing the tomatoes, cucumbers, and sugar snap peas I’d bought seeds of as well.

My first real attempt at farming didn’t go too well on the hot cement slabs of my front yard in Santa Monica. It probably had something to do with the heat, or my rolling the dice with planting seeds in huge pots of soil rather than starting with something smaller and gentler to get the seeds to sprout first.

Nevertheless, over the course of three months, I did get one cherry tomato. Much more than that though, and far more importantly, I was having Happy Farm before I had it.

Each time I watered my little fruitless garden, I was touching a future that would realize itself in form in shockingly short time

Loving us all, JPM

PS – Watch Kalpna and I share the story of how we created Happy Farm in the Creating community here.