Gratitude is hard. It’s a practice that pushes against every instinct of the ego. Gratitude forces you to be happy with what you have and where you are, even if those things or that place aren’t perfect. The ego wants more: more credit, more status, more approval, more legitimacy, more admiration…but gratitude says, “this is nice, this is a special experience, these are good-hearted people, my life is full and meaningful.”
We’ve all heard the adage, “have an attitude of gratitude.” I remember hearing these words at school and church growing up – often sung by teachers or parents in the faces of whiney children. When we look deeper than P’s and Q’s, the adage teaches us a lesson in remaining present – recognizing the miracle of life all around us.
In the business of farming where so many factors to success are out of our control, gratitude can be especially hard – particularly as summer comes bursting through the door. As the weeds begin to pick up steam and the demand for food grows alongside our demand for more sleep, it can feel like we’ll never keep up. We have spoken lament over the past few months: “We need to be bigger so we can hire help;” “If only we had better machinery;” “Why won’t it stop raining?!” “It’s so hot – all our greens are wilting.”
To this list of complaints, we’ve added in grievances over our chosen lifestyle: “I wish we didn’t have to drive so much – this is so frustrating!” “Working in Portland is getting to be too much; why can’t we just have one day off?!” During the month of June, our minds were becoming fixated on all that was challenging – the negative chatter eventually drowning out any inkling of gratitude or possible solutions to our problems.
After a much-needed vacation at the end of June (placing the well-being of our fields and seedlings in the capable hands of some generous neighbors), we had a discussion about submission and gratitude that changed the course of our thoughts and, subsequently, our attitude about the farm this season.
The conclusion was this:
We lead busy lives – that is a choice we made for this season, and the busy-ness will not stop until the plants are done growing. A farm carries a lot of inertia: once you put it in motion, it’s like a freight train without breaks. We spent a lot of the spring months realizing how fast the farm was moving and how chaotic we had made our lives. And we fought it. Under the weight of it all, we were constantly vocalizing the aforementioned complaints – hoping that if we whined enough, things would slow down. We were habitually trying to conceive ideas and plans that would quick-fix our situation, failing to take into account the farm’s inertia.
But the ego is self-serving, and ultimately self-destructive. The hyped-up plans and ideas were merely grasps at gaining more control, feeling more important, and looking like we had our shit together. Those kinds of goals don’t actually accomplish anything for anyone: we took ourselves out of the present moment and were frustrated with every small hurdle in front of us; the farm became a burden instead of a passion-project; our friends and family could feel our anxiety.
So step one was to submit. Submit to the fact that we are only two humans (sorry, egos!). Submit to the chaos and realize that summers are busy – that’s just the nature of things. Submit to the growing weeds, the planting schedule (which we will get back on track), the sweat, the bugs. Submit to the knowledge that we can take small steps to alleviate our commuter-farm stress, but that immediate major changes are just not going to happen while we try to keep a farm alive. Submit to the things that are out of our control.
Once we stopped fighting all the external forces (well, most of them – I can’t give us that much credit!), step two was to practice gratitude. It’s really amazing how simply saying “thank you” out loud can change your attitude. We started to replace our vocalized complaints with phrases like, “I’m so grateful we have the opportunity to farm;” “Thank you, Farm, for creating food and helping us feed our friends and neighbors;” “I appreciate that I get to work alongside my partner and be outside every day.” And BOOM! Weights were lifted from shoulders, the farm became a place of joy and abundance, plans for the future came about sensibly and organically… All the brain space that was being taken up with whiney, ego-serving chatter became more open to finding real solutions to our challenges and taking in the beauty of this incredible life we lead.
Gratitude is a practice. There will be days and months and years when gratitude will not be so easily found or remembered. But for us, this past month has been a real kick-in-the-pants reminder that truth and beauty live in the present – and they are both more readily experienced with an attitude of gratitude.