In Zen Buddhism the path towards enlightenment is often described through a series of illustrations called The Ten Ox Herding Pictures. At the beginning of the story the Ox is wild and escapes every chance that he gets. But he is followed by a young boy who slowly tames the animal until he is able to ride him back into the market place at which point the Ox inevitably escapes again, and the cycle repeats itself. Eventually, however, both the boy and the ox disappear. And in the final picture we see a monk who is simply walking the path, helping sentient beings when ever he gets the chance. As I understand it, the boy in the story represents a Zen practitioner, and the Ox is his mind which starts off as unruly but slowly becomes calm and peaceful through the practitioner's continued effort. One thing that has always confused me about the story is how the boy keeps going back to the marketplace. Why doesn't he remain in the wilderness with his ox/mind and live in peace? This question is weighing especially heavy on my own mind at the moment because two weeks ago I chose to leave the organic farm that I was working on, and return to the market place which is conventional society.
To put this into perspective, before I started this blog and moved to New York I was living and working on an organic farm in Indiana. I was there for five months, and worked with two other people to construct a tiny house on the property. During that time, I learned that I could be happy with very little in the way of material possessions, and that it is possible to meet all of my needs (food, water, shelter, human companionship, etc.) without large amounts of money. With this in mind, I went to New York in the hopes of adding some farming skills (planting, harvesting, transplanting, etc.) to all of the building skills that I learned in Indiana. While I was there, I got to do some really cool stuff like:
- Cleared brush from a half-acre orchard to make room for more fruit trees
- Planted and mulched countless fruit trees (pears, cherries, and plums)
- Constructed wooden garden beds for herbs
- Planted and mulched blue berry bushes
- Planted and weeded a strawberry patch
- Shoveled chicken crap out of a coop
- Fed and watered 100 chickens
- Attended farmers' markets
- Maintained a greenhouse
- Unloaded hay wagons
- Packaged herbal teas
- Harvested ramps
|This is the tiny house that I helped build in Indiana|
In short I learned some really fantastic skills. I definitely don't feel like I could run my own farm at this point, but I'd feel comfortable taking care of a greenhouse and a small orchard/garden on my own. Furthermore, I found that I really enjoyed the work. It was hard and I was filthy at the end of every day, but I always went to bed feeling like I'd spent my day doing meaningful work. Of course this all begs the question, "Why did I leave?" I guess I started to feel like I was hiding from the world, and it's problems. It just got too hard for me to justify working on a farm where I was meditating every day and feeling incredibly peaceful and centered when there are activists working on the front-lines; risking their bodies and their freedom to enact social change. That being said, there are some pragmatic reasons for this change. I've been on the road for eight months between my time in Indiana and my time in New York, and my funds are starting to run low. If I'm going to continue traveling, and studying my mind, then I need to earn income and rebuild my savings.
On the plus side, I can continue doing everything that I was doing on the farm (eating vegetarian, not owning a car, meditating, etc.) in conventional society, so this doesn't constitute a failure in terms of my wanting to live nonviolently in the world. Additionally, I'm hoping to get more involved with front-line activism (protests, resistance classes, flyering, etc.) in support of animal rights, environmentalism, and peace activism. I miss the simplicity of farm life, but I honestly feel like this change is necessary both in terms of pragmatism and spiritual development. I learned a great deal from farming, and I hope to return to that life one day. But for now, I need to see what the marketplace can teach me.