On Friday afternoon, we packed our car and joined the hundreds of other vehicles clogging Interstate 290 traveling northwest out of Houston. As is our mode of operation, we filled our Starbucks cups with our drug of choice, cranked up the music, and shifted into vacation mode for the quiet weekend my husband had suggested. Turning off the highway and following the winding back roads of this rural community, we glimpsed spread after spread, each attractive farmhouse unique. Driving up our hosts’ road, I spotted their white-planked fence in the distance. When we turned our car onto their property, I recognized the same buttercup yellow farm house sitting sixty feet from the road nestled in a grove of spindly hundred year-old white oak trees.
The sound of the wheels of our car as it crossed the cattle guard must have been magical, like the Pied Piper playing his flute, because the Holsteins came a running – that is, as fast a cow can run. The small herd bellowed to make their presence known, as if anyone could ever miss either their mooing or the immensity of their size. There were about ten of them with two calves trailing behind their mothers. What they wanted, I later learned, was to be fed. Since our delight in their presence did not satiate their need, within a few moments, they rambled back to their pasture. As I took in the expanse in front of me, I wondered, why has it taken me so long to return here? I’d forgotten the physical relief I felt entering into this little piece of heaven.
It had been fifteen years since I visited, and I noticed two new additions – a new corrugated aluminum barn (a man-cave) and a wrap-around porch that overlooked the vista behind the house. After a quick unpacking of our travel cooler and the locating of a perfect place for our small travel bag, I headed to one of the two rockers on the new back porch. Without an agenda, except to relax, or any idea of how long I would be on the porch, I spent the next three hours curled up rocking in a picture-perfect, picket-fence-slated, white rocking chair with floral tufted cushions.
As the shadow from the tree beside the house danced its way across the porch, and the daylight melted into dusk, my body began to relax. I drank in the vista – three of the Holsteins curled under the three live oaks that demarcated their backyard. The expansive sky was spotted with cotton candy clouds that reflected the lemon yellow to an apple red hues as dusk approached and then disappeared into the darkness of the night as the moon made its arrival. Watching the spectacle unfold, I experienced a sense of quiet that settled deep into the caverns of my body and sank into my bones. The silence spoke louder to me than the constant ambient noise that I’m immersed in 24/7, living in a neighborhood on the west side of Houston.
The bucolic panorama that I now longed to be a part of was in stark contrast to the dull ache that I felt in my body. Surprised, I asked myself: Where does that physical discomfort come from? The longer I sat, the heavier my body became – it was as if I was collapsing into myself. I felt like a slug at the bottom of a dried-up watering hole; the thought of getting out of the chair seemed insurmountable. I had arrived at the farm unaware of just how much my body needed this break, and my body doesn’t lie. It always knows the truth, if I will but slow down enough to stop and listen. The truth was that my body was a parched as the arid lands that surrounded me after a year of drought. I had been in the midst of my own drought and didn’t know it. As I sat, I lapped in everything, trying to absorb each moment; the cool breeze across my arms and legs, the fragrance of Knock-out roses that surrounded the porch, the cows and their droppings, the wide-open sky, the fluttering of the leaves, the setting sun and the rising moon. It all tantalized my senses and fed my soul.
What did I do that weekend? I slept the sleep of a dead man. I watered the trees. I lay under the shade of a near-by tree on a chaise lounge and took a nap. I got up early and took in the early morning view with a hot cup of tea and watched the sun burn through the morning mist. I took long runs along secluded country roads and meandered through the barren parched fields. I took a nap in the shade on the porch swing and let its gentle creaking be music to my soul. I ate when I was hungry and was back in my rocking chair on the porch to watch the next night’s evening spectacle. I shared time and the magnificence around me with the other inhabitants of the farm: the Holsteins, one cat, an armadillo, three dogs, and a fox. We lived together as country folk do – with respect for the contributions each made in our communal ecosystem. Yet it seemed that my own personal system had been out of whack, and I wondered why?
A week after we returned to our home in Houston, the magnitude of the shift in my energies was still at work within me. I’d wake up thinking about it, or watching a cloud floating by, I’d be transported back to the farm, and the peace I felt there. So I began to ponder my weekend experience in earnest. What I knew for sure was that I had arrived at the farm feeling a tad bit cranky, but feeling okay physically. Once I parked my car, every cell of my body began to ache, both physically and psychically. Something important had happened within me – but what?
When I think back over the years to when I experienced my body aching, one of two things were happening: I was affected either by stress or by pent up emotions. However, at present, I don’t live life in constant worry about financial, marriage or work-related external demands. My husband is both supportive and encouraging. And, I don’t feel repressed emotions about to bubble up either. No, this was something different. Was it situational? What did being in the country have to do with the shift of my physical energies? Did it have to do with spending time in the serenity and harmony of nature? And, with those questions, a new day dawned in the form of an answer. It hadn’t been exhaustion that I was experiencing, but a deep settling down and in. That bucolic piece of heaven that I was immersed in was a reflection of what my soul was longing for – it was a coming home – a call to live a life of equanimity and congruence with everyone around me as a manifestation of my belief that there is a spiritual Nature always at work in my and everyone’s life.
There is an old adage that says that when one finger points to another (or something outside of yourself), there are three fingers pointing back at you. There is more truth to that then I want to accept. In this instant, the finger that I pointed out was not in condemnation, as it usually is: “If only he would,” “She’s doing this,” or “He needs to do that.” This time my finger was pointing the way to where health resides. The reality is that it is me who is being called to do and be different—to extract myself from the cacophony that resides in my mind, to eliminate the noise of control. Does the bird tell the tree how to grow? Does the cow complain if a fly circles around her? Does it matter if a farmer tells a flower to grow or a calf to be born? Life happens without his opinions. And, it is the same in all life. Nature unfolds – it just does. Who am I to play god? What is in it for me to act as the arbiter of what is good or right for others, no matter how nicely I justify my behavior.
When I think about it from a peaceful place, a bucolic place, away from the hubbub of life, then it’s clear to see that when I insert my unsolicited judgments and opinions, unconsciously I’ve devalued their own journey – as if they don’t know what is right for themselves. What a pungent thought. And, while I am interfering in others’ lives, I get to avoid the three fingers pointing back at me, and I miss the opportunity to learn what Nature would have me learn. But, not this time—this time I get it.
I’ve learned that it is possible for me to carry within me the tranquility and equanimity that I felt while at the farm into my day-to-day life. Like a barn cat finding peace with the field mice, I want to be less reactive and more curious. To treat everyone with the same gracious respect that I would any of the creatures I interacted with while away. To tend my own fields and let my neighbors till their own farmlands. My belief is that when I become a good neighbor rather than a melding one, then the contentment I felt in the country will pervade every interaction–and I will truly be home–with myself, where it counts the most.