Friday, April 22, 2016

Pain Isn't the Problem

      As the morning sun peers through my window, I wake up and begin to take stock of my situation.  My arms are covered with angry scratches from the two days I spent cutting down a hedge row in the orchard.  My lower back aches from the twice-daily ritual of carrying buckets of water to the chicken coop, and my dreams are filled with images of hay, mulch, and manure.  I've learned two things this week.  First, farming is hard work!  Second, I need to get back in shape.  Over the years, I've tried to maintain a regular weight lifting schedule, but my body is clearly unprepared for farm life.  I groan like a ninety year-old man in need of a hip replacement as I sit up on the edge of my bed.  To say that I'm discouraged is an understatement.
     "Is the whole six months going to be like this?" I wonder.   I try giving myself a pep talk about the good work that I'm doing here.  I think about the people that will have healthy, chemical-free food to eat, and how I enjoy being close to nature every day.  But it doesn't help.  In fact, I honestly don't care about any of the things that motivated me to come out here.  In this moment, I'm in pain, and I want it to stop.  Period.  Suddenly, I remember a conversation I had with a friend several months ago, we'll call him Kyle.  Kyle and I met last summer when we both volunteered at an intentional community in Indiana.  He expressed an interest in Zen, so we chatted about my personal experience with the practice.  One of our conversations went like this:
Me:  I read somewhere that the key to getting rid of desire is learning to accept each moment exactly "as is".  It makes sense in theory, but I have trouble with it in practice
Kyle:  Actually, that makes a lot of sense to me.
Me:  Really?
Kyle:  Yeah, it's like I haven't taken many showers since I got here, but when I was in the fields the other day, I realized that being dirty only feels bad when I want to be clean.
     I didn't realize how profound Kyle's statement was in that moment.  But now, when I'm fighting the urge to hide in my sleeping bag in the hopes that no one finds me, I have a realization.  "Being dirty only feels bad when I want to be clean".  It wasn't the dirt on Kyle's body that decided how he felt about his situation.  It was how he thought about that dirt that mattered. When he stopped wanting to be clean, and just accepted that he was going to be dirty for a while, his outlook improved .  What if I stop wanting my body to be pain-free? What if I just accept that I’m going to be in pain for a while?  As these thoughts enter my brain, a small crack opens up in my mind.  I think back over the past week, and chuckle softly to myself.  I’ve been doing hard, manual labor for the past five days.  Did I really think that I could do that and not feel any muscle soreness?! 
     The crack in my mind expands a little wider as I ponder this.  It’s not a huge shift in my thinking, but it’s enough for me to stop feeling sorry for myself.  I stand up slowly, and my legs scream in protest.  It hurts, but it’s manageable.  As each second passes, my discomfort feels less like some kind of cosmic torture, and more like a rite of passage.  “I’m going to be a goddamn farmer,” I mutter to myself.  Through gritted teeth I bend over and pull on my jeans and work boots.  The movement helps to loosen up my back.  Next, I do some yoga stretches, and my hamstrings soften ever so slightly in response.  Finally, I sit on my cushion, and begin counting my breathes.  I have one hour before the work day begins.  I need to get ready.

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