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New Ideas

Garth Brown |

It’s remarkable how quickly last year’s project has vanished from my mind. While I was in it I would think of my limited diet at least with every meal, and often in between, but it only took a couple weeks of eating everything to mostly forget about all the energy I expended on food in the previous year.

In this sense the experiment was a failure; while I may have gained some appreciation for the simple pleasures of eating only food of certain provenance, I had already been raising enough of my own meat and vegetables that it was not the revelation it might have been if I’d taken up the challenge from a diet wholly purchased at restaurants and supermarkets. I felt the lack of what I couldn’t have much more than I felt new found pleasure in what was available to me.

For the past several days I’ve been thinking about a more positive lesson I can extract from the past year, and I have come to a tentative conclusion. The impulse to be aware of the aspects of my life that are a product of mindless habit is something to pursue. While food was an obvious place to start, given that I have a farm, it was unnecessary for the same reason. I already was plenty preoccupied with the larger implications of what I choose to eat. So what, I’ve been pondering, would be a more sensible alternative? Put another way, how can I try to spend less of my life in a state of unawareness? What can I change in my routine that will bring me more into the world from moment to moment?

If this all sounds a little mystical, I guess it is. It’s something I’ve been preoccupied with for years, in large part because it is so difficult to articulate, though I’ve certainly tried. I assume most of us have had some sort of sublime experience. The most obvious of mine have been in nature - seeing a storm blow in while standing on a mountain, walking by the Hudson on a winter afternoon so cold that its surface all the way to New Jersey was a slowly shifting plain of white as snow covered sheets of ice drifted past from upriver. In these moments I feel something I can only describe as an intense wholeness, as my awareness is forced to be entirely and immediately in the world.

But I’ve also come to think it’s both unrealistic and counterproductive to seek out such drama, or at least to view it as the only place where such an experience can be had. Instead I would like to cultivate within myself an awareness of the everyday glory of the world around me.

The embarrassment - beyond the embarrassment I feel as a private person who has reservations about discussing such subjects online - is that seeking to find profundity in the mundane necessarily uses mundane tools. The best idea I’ve come up with so far to help me have some sort of consciousness as I go about my routine days is to pare down the parts of that routine that seem most thoughtless. To this end I am going to try an internet diet. I’ll still check e-mail and and write, but that’s about it. Also, given my recent experience with the absurdity of taking such a program to an extreme, I will pick one day a week to read all of the sites that interest me and to research anything I can think of that needs researching.

Yesterday, when Oban and I had given the pigs their afternoon meal, we decided to walk home past our small waterfall and down the stream. Though its arrival was much later than usual, winter has finally come to central New York, and seemingly overnight a thick layer of ice had formed over the water, the ice piling on top of itself in frozen cascades and thick sheets. The woods were quiet, with the snow deadening Oban’s footfalls as he rocketed through the trees. Only the stream rushing beneath its new skin broke the silence. As I walked I felt happy at the simple pleasure of visiting one of the most beautiful places on the farm, somewhere I rarely go despite the fact that it only adds a few minutes to the trip. I suppose it’s possible that if I walk this same route every day I will grow inured to it. But I think there’s a good chance I won’t.


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