Raising Some Roots

NOTE: This post will be much longer than the posts thus far, for there exists much to share.

NOTE 2: I have attempted to write this post several times now, and each time, I have felt completely overwhelmed by the amount of information and new experiences I feel responsible to convey. I would say that’s a good problem to have. I have come to recognize there is just no way I can possibly explain all that is happening around me and to me right now. These “Journal” posts of this blog must not be mere play-by-plays. First of all, that would likely bore you. Secondly, that would make each post about eight thousand words. My words will not capture my experiences; however, they might honor them. While I cannot promise consistent chronology, I can promise my greatest effort to share with you all the amazing things happening here at Raisin’ Roots Farm and beyond in Fort Collins, Colorado.

___

I am now living on a farm.

I’m living in the RV pictured below. Younger folks than myself might describe it as ‘dope.’ I would describe it as a perfect situation.

I sleep on a plush foam mattress that receives me each night with compassion. I’ve got my own little curtain-contained nook that feels like a personal meditation sanctuary. The windows hang open through the night, and I fall asleep to the faint chirping of crickets, the water trickling softly into the nearby pond—though, if I’m being honest, these Zen vibes are sometimes infiltrated with the sudden burst of howling from the three dogs living on the property, all of whom have bared their fangs at me at least one time. Regardless, each night, I have slept peacefully, and each morning, I have awoken at sunrise.

RV.JPG
My home until October 31st

It is not my custom to awaken at sunrise. I like to sleep. But I’ve been popping out of bed at 5:30 with no problem. I put on warm clothes (it’s been about 55 degrees in the morning), slide on my sandals, and take a stroll around the farm. The lone rooster crows. Otherwise, I hear only the birds and the wind.

I greet the day with a ritual of gratitude. A wonderful woman in my life taught me to offer tobacco, a sacred herb, to the earth. I lay down the tobacco, stretch, and do a few Sun Salutations. As I pause and breathe, hands to the ground, I thank the earth for all it gives me, for all the nutrients it offers my body without asking anything in return. Then I think of the people in my life, my family, my friends, who so support this strange journey of mine, and I let my gratitude for them fill my body. Finally, I thank the Universe for the new day.

Then, at 6:30AM, we get to work.

img_3967.jpg
Those plants are growing food! Wow!

I underestimated how challenging the work would be. Anyone who works regularly on a farm would laugh at my ignorance. Of course it’s hard work! And it’s work that is so under appreciated.

I work until 2:30PM, which is hours before Ben–head honcho farmer extraordinaire–and Sam–Ben’s apprentice and fellow lover of the written word–retire for the day. Over the course of three days, I have done numerous things that four days ago I had never come close to doing. I have now:

  • Harvested arugula, potatoes, tomatoes, mixed greens, zucchini, squash, cucumber, kale, collared greens, swiss chard, grapes, and potatoes (the latter of which involved repeatedly jamming a spade shovel deep into the earth and pulling up the plant from beneath to reveal a treasure trove of red and yellow and purple delights)
  • Detail cleaned a large chicken coop due to mite infestation
  • Scattered bails of hay on that chicken coop floor
  • Piled mite-infested hay into a tractor while wearing a mask
  • Drilled wooden beams into walls and poles to provide roosting locations for chickens
  • Tied drooping tomato plants to twine lines (while imbibing a few scrumptious tomatoes straight off the plant along the way)
  • Filled an RV water tank multiple times
  • Cooked scrumptious, farm-fresh meals in an RV kitchen
  • Fed pigs while trying to prevent them from eating my leg¹

This list of new experiences goes on and on and on, a trend certain to continue.

I came here thinking I would work at Raisin’ Roots for two months and then move to Boulder, the place I had decided to live when I visited Colorado last April. After three days in Fort Collins, that desire is coming into question. I realize it is one of many expectations I have carried into this experience.

These expectations, like all expectations, do not dictate any absolute reality.

Reality may be inviting an entirely different story to be written.

Basically, that’s a way of saying I love Fort Collins way more than I thought I would love Fort Collins. Each day, I meet awesome, healthy, down-to-earth people who love the outdoors, the earth, culture, and their fellow wanderers of this planet. At my admission of my desire to move to Boulder, everyone I have met (including people who live or have lived in Boulder) has responded the same: “Stay in Fort Collins.” Many express much distaste for Boulder, in fact, as do folks from Denver, I’ve noticed.

I’m not letting these responses dictate my story. Rather, I am taking them as an invitation to open my eyes and ears more to what is around me. In doing so, I have come to observe people from diverse demographics wandering the grid-like streets with a curious spirit. I have seen countless small businesses lining many intersecting roads. I feel the vibe of a college town mixed with the feel of a peaceful, open-minded, liberal community. I see more bikers than I have ever seen in another city. I observe the foothills in the West, towering high, inviting exploration. Later today, I will drive into them and hike Greyrock Trail, a 7-mile loop I am told is both difficult and stunning. Ah, the bliss of an open day before me!

IMG_3972
What a great gift, these farm-fresh meals!

 

So things are going well, but it is not all coming easily. I am learning many lessons, challenged to grow each moment. Something that shocked me was that the night I arrived, I did not instantly feel the vision of bliss, confidence, and security I had anticipated. What I felt was fear. A lot of fear. Suddenly everything was real—the new living space, the new state, the lack of job or established future. The prospect of pulling it all together felt completely overwhelming.

But wait! Hadn’t I gotten past my fear? Hadn’t I shed them in my meditations and contemplations of this journey? Oh no, silly Sean! Fear is tricky. Fear finds a way to reenter the fold.

That first night, the fears streamed through my mind: What are you doing out here? Did you delude yourself into thinking you have a plan? How foolish you were to make this so public! Now everyone is expecting something amazing! You won’t be able to pull it off. You’re all alone out here. Your vision is an illusion that will crash and burn and you will have to return in shame from where you came!

Whew. The fears pummeled my mind, yielding quite the unpleasant state. With them came a strange sadness. It was a sadness for all I left behind, a sadness for the fact that all my visions and expectations were being revealed as just that, expectations, and not the reality.

But fear, I realize, is a crucial part of all transitions. Fear grows alongside our spirits. Yet what also grows, with mindfulness and intentionality, is our ability to recognize our fears and separate them from reality.

And that separation is what I feel myself now discovering. What helps me is another lesson I am learning: to focus on presence. This is something I have worked on for years, but it’s put to the test when straining under a bail of hay, when inhaling dust from a mite-infested coop. How do I remain present when this voice in my mind is yelling, This is uncomfortable! This stinks! When will this day be over?

By entering a spirit of service, that’s how!

Instead of letting these silly little woes get to me, I tune more into the physical motion, watching my hands move, consciously using which muscles I need. I perceive myself as giving, not receiving. I am offering my labor to this place that has so willingly taken me in, because I wish to help them in any way I can.

I’ve never really thought like this before. I default toward selfishness. So often I become wrapped in what I can get from a situation, how I can grow. Service is such a healthier mindset. Service is the doorway outside of the echoing cavern of my own perceptions.

So it’s safe to say that those fears that arose my first night have dwindled. I am so grateful and happy to be here. I feel opportunities and possibilities opening around me. I realize much of the pressure I felt upon arriving was self-imposed. I had created this pressure on myself to do something soon, something that will impress people. The task of it was overwhelming! How can I better the world so quickly while simultaneously fostering a salary that will support living in this more-expensive-than-average place?

I have loosened those expectations. I realized those expectations were ego-based. Now, I am open to any kind of work that will benefit my growth and those whom the work serves. All the while, I will work patiently on building my writing profile. Ah, such comfort in gentleness!

IMG_3969.JPG
It appears I have dirt on my face!

 

I am beyond grateful for the kind folks at Raisin’ Roots, who are so willingly initiating me into this land, providing me such a firm and loving foundation from which to explore. It’s thanks to them that this experience has so rapidly crushed my illusory expectations.

I am not sure it is possible to travel into a new experience without expectations. Maybe expectations are not the problem. Maybe the bigger issue is fixation upon expectations, attachment to their becoming. For always, those expectations will be based on experiences past, and if we insist on bringing them to be, then we are once again living our future as defined by our previously established comfort zone. That comfort zone is precisely what I seek to move beyond.

Many amazing opportunities on the horizon! I intend to update this blog at least once a week. I will experiment with different styles and diverse content–it won’t all be about me. As always, I thank you so very much for following this journey. All the best to you as you travel your unfolding pathway!

 

FOOTNOTES

  1. There are three pigs on the farm—Choulder, Vigoro, and Pastrami—who are being raised to be slaughtered in mid-October. We will do the slaughtering on the farm, and I will take part. At the moment, they are about 130 pounds, and we hope to raise them to 250. My very first task was to join Ben, head honcho of Raisin’ Roots, and my fellow WWOOFer Lindsey in the pen to spread out food. I thought, Can I really play a role in killing these guys? Then the little one, Choulder, started aggressively chomping at my calf. If he keeps doing that, it’ll certainly make my task easier.)

On Trusting Intuition

One trend I’ve noticed these days is that people are very skeptical about intuition. If a decision comes down to a battle between rationality and feeling, rationality tends to take the reins. Rationality is the scientific way, and science has taught us so much about the world and made us more comfortable than our ancestors ever could have dreamed possible. But with such rational dominance, we can easily lose the power of instincts, the intelligence of intuition.

I am moving to Colorado based on intuition. Yet as I write this, I am not sure I am capable of defining what intuition is. It’s sort of mystical for me. I pay attention to synchronicity, to signs, and I have received so many signs guiding me toward to Colorado over the last several years that I can no longer ignore them if I wish to live a purpose-driven life.

I once considered writing explicitly about these signs. A mentor and dear friend of mine advised me against it, suggesting that doing so may prevent these signs from continuing to guide me. I believe this was powerful advice, for in the end, my signs would be very different from yours, so the specifics would likely offer no additional aid. What matters is that they exist, and our intuition knows how to honor them.

“If you don’t live now, you ain’t even trying
And then you’re on your way to a midlife crisis
Live it out anyway you feel”
-My Morning Jacket

I think of the musician Josh Tillman, who was effectively ‘reborn’ as Father John Misty after a vision quest up the coast of California that, according to his awesome interview with Marc Maron (minute 26), involved many insights (and a fair share of magic mushrooms, evidently). Mr. Misty referenced awakening in a tree, looking down at his own naked body, seeing a sort of albino ape man, and realizing how ridiculous had been the seriousness with which he had regarded himself through his fledgling music career. A funny anecdote, but the full transformative story remains vague. Señor Misty Tillman refrained from telling us what specific signs he experienced in that California tree, what synchronicities undoubtedly followed assuring him that he should follow this strange new vision. All we really know is the experience transformed him by revealing energy he had not previously known he had.

Father_John_Misty,_2013_(cropped)
Father John Misty (Josh Tillman)

It took courage for him to follow that vision. It also took a powerful sense of intuition. Rebranding oneself as “Father John Misty” does not strike me as a very rational move. But it worked, so very well.

So I’m following intuition, following the signs of which I mustn’t speak. What I can speak about, however, is the emotional side of my intuition, the feelings associated. Each time I have traveled to Colorado in the last five years, I have left feeling powerful. It’s like a reservoir of energy inside me that I didn’t even know was there floods through my body. At times, it has been overwhelming. It has led me to sprint up mountain trails like a psycho until I cannot breathe, hyperventilating the delicious mountain air that instills my spirit with a sense of purpose and home. I feel an invitation to kinship and harmony with the Earth and all its energy that expands along an infinite spectrum. In short, I feel really, really good when I am there. It’s the sort of ‘high pleasure’ folks like John Stuart Mill spoke of, perhaps that ‘Rocky Mountain High’ to which good ole John Denver referred (even if he is full of sh*t). I feel inspired there. I feel alive there. Eager to explore the vastness, I am myself there.

What I feel I have in common with ole Joshy Misty-Man is this experience of newfound energy come about by listening to signs and synchronicity. That energy was inside him, it’s inside me, and it’s inside you. It wants to awaken inside all of us. It connects us to our purpose, and it connects us to something sacred, something beyond ourselves. If we don’t listen to it, it will continue lying dormant beside us in our eternal slumber.

But fear not! For the amazing thing about intuition and the beautiful, affirmative energy to which it can connect us is that it’s always there. If you’ve been particularly rational in your approach for a while, it may take some time to reconnect to it. But it cannot die. It’s like creativity. It requires psychic space to rise. How to make that space? Patience. Quiet. Nature. Listening.

Turn the ear inward. Listen to what your gut’s telling you. In all my experiences of really listening, beyond the internal shouting matches of low-level desires and attachments, my gut, my intuition, has never steered me wrong.

On Passivity and Intention

As I write about my move to Colorado, a move that has very few plans attached, I hope you don’t interpret what I am saying as a sort of New Agey passivity, a ‘Let’s see where the wind takes me!’ path through adulthood, an ‘Everything will work out fine and blissfully!’ dreamer’s delusion. If there’s one thing I have learned in the ‘real world’, it is the power and necessity of intention.

Highly successful and admirable people I follow continuously converge on this bit of advice: reflect deeply on what you seek, visualize the world you wish to build, establish practical, realistic steps to get there, and patiently start putting those steps into practice. It may take years for something to happen, but you must not give up on the goal. 

Keep focused on the intention, keep putting yourself out there, and unexpected results will come to be.

So long as we overcome doubt and fear with perseverance, we can accomplish so much more than we realize. It’s like Newton’s Third Law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

“Put out fear and they’ll feel fear, it’s a chain reaction…
Put out love and they’ll feel love, it’s a chain reaction…”      
-Cloud Cult

A large part of my purpose in writing this blog is to become more aware of my intentions for my future and career, a sort of canvas to Pollock-spill the paint and find the patterns in the splatter (though not so formless at the outset, as I wish not for you to bear all the wild workings of my mind). At this juncture, here’s what I have in terms of intentions.

I intend to write, I intend to learn more about sustainable relationships to the earth, I intend to expand my knowledge of bodily and mental health, and I intend to look past myself in an effort to better serve my fellow man. As I farm, I will nurture these intentions, reminding myself of the metaphorical power of planting seeds, of watching them bud, of patiently helping them grow. I will seek new, unpredictable opportunities in alignment with these intentions, contacting local papers and online magazines in hope to become involved with spreading the word on diverse regional places and activities. I will put myself out there. I will trust that as I nourish and make conscious my intentions, so they will find external manifestation in the forms of lifestyle, relationships, and career. 

pollock.jpg
Jackson Pollock with his Unconscious Artwork

So my approach is not a simple ‘go with the flow,’ nor is it a ‘plan every step of the way.’ It seeks—what do you know!—that elusive middle ground. (Once the Buddhist’s got that in my ear…)

I enter into the unknown to make new things known, to embed new habits, to establish a new foundation.

If I insist on this embedding and establishing at the outset, I am defining the future based on the past and so bringing this fixed, established identity to a new landscape, reducing the unknown’s potentiality for the sake of some idea of security based more on fear than necessity. Without that growth potential the unknown bears, I might as well have remained where I was.

I’ll conclude with a brief anecdote. One of my dad’s close friends, a kind, happy, successful man whom I respect a great deal, recently asked me the “What are you going to do?” question in a fantastic way. He said, “If money and security were not being considered, what do you see yourself doing out there? Go.” On instinct, I replied, “Writing.” Instantly, my intention was made known to me. His question did not inflict pressure. Rather, it helped guide me toward the vision, the dream, the intention. He then said, “Great. Now, how do you get there?”

The answer to that seemed simple. I just have to start writing. And lo and behold, this blog has now come to be! Though the vision is still a bit Pollock-esque, my emotions tell me that I intend for Alternate Pathways to become something more than a simple reflection of my journey. I look forward to nurturing these intentions toward growth. 

Uncertainty and Possibility

I would like to focus for a moment on uncertainty.

If you’re a Breaking Bad fan, you’ve heard the name ‘Heisenberg’. If you know the reference, you know the real Heisenberg was a German physicist famous for his Uncertainty Principle (which apparently made ole Albert E. pretty displeased). If you’re like me, you don’t know much about this principle except that a) it has to do with Quantum Physics and b) it posits we can’t really know anything. (If I’m being honest, I took pretty much all that knowledge from this clip from the Coen Bros’ underrated A Serious Man.)

It’s funny that one of the massive conclusions of physics, a science directed toward fixity and certainty, is that we can’t know anything for certain. It’s also funny that regardless of this principle, most of us direct our lives toward certainty. Certainty is comfortable. Certainty is predictable. Certainty is protection against realities we’d prefer not to let in. But uncertainty? That’s darkness. That’s unpredictable. That’s fear.

Or is it? (Cue dramatic music.)

Two Heisenbergs.

At this juncture of my life, basically everything forward has become uncertain, including, but not limited to:

  • Job (and with it all the insurances and benefits and securities)
  • Housing (in one of the more expensive areas of the country, they say)
  • Community
  • Relationships
  • Attempt to publish my novel

I seek no brownie points for this. This uncertain future is my decision. What I wish instead to espouse is how liberating it can be to embrace uncertainty. In uncertainty exists possibility. From a particular perspective, each moment is uncertain. Each conversation, each vantage point, each car passed, each problem rising–we cannot see their coming. Who knows where a spontaneous encounter may lead.

On the other hand, it would be irresponsible to live in such a way that all is open in uncertainty, for then we would more than likely accomplish nothing significant. Extended focus requires fixity, solidity, foundation, certainty (even if Heisenberg-ians would argue these to be mere illusions of certainty). Our approach to the future, to chart an alternate pathway, mustn’t be an either/or regarding certainty and uncertainty. It’s both, in relationship, interacting, expanding.

As I have told people about my decision to move to Colorado, I’ve experienced a diversity of responses. Most often, not surprisingly: What are you going to do? The natural question. My response has been pretty consistent: I’m going to drive to Colorado, WWOOF for two months, then figure it out. Often, a flood of questions follows: What about money? Shelter? Insurance? Community? How are you going to make a living and survive? Several people have spoken to me as if I am a disillusioned child who has lost his way. I do not take these responses personally. I understand them, for I received similar responses in my past when I abruptly changed my major of Mechanical Engineering to Philosophy after my Sophomore year of college, as well as in 2012 when I told people I was going to California to hitchhike for a few months. Here is what I have come to realize:

These questions reflect the questioner’s fear, not my own.

If I internalize these fears, I am betraying the instincts that led me to change course in the first place, the instincts I chose to honor. I am receiving, not overcoming, fear. When we move into uncertainty, we must focus on overcoming fear, for these moves require us to overcome fears we do not yet know we carry. But with determination and intention toward the goal, toward growing the vision, we will realize these fears do not have jurisdiction, and we will become more rounded, more loving stewards of service and fellowship for it.

There are many things to consider, ponder, and plan for when moving into the uncertain future. Yet there are also far less than we often think necessary. If a lifestyle of certainty and predictability grows stifling and dissatisfying, fear of the unknown is a pretty cruddy reason to remain where we are. There’s always new possibilities out there. By definition, these possibilities are unknown until we encounter them, until they are made known to us.

Man. That’s starting to sound like Schrodinger’s Cat. I’m not going to pretend like I understand that one in the slightest.

Making Moves

My life has become a tad uprooted.

Over the course of the last year and a quarter, I have quit my job as a High School English/Creative Writing teacher, ended a long and loving relationship, and decided to move to Colorado. It’s not because of the weed. It’s because of the energy. It’s because I feel at peace by the mountains. It’s because I’m enticed to explore what this incredible state offers and what I may offer it in return.

I’m launching this blog for many purposes, but one of those purposes is to document what unexpected developments are sure to come. I will chronicle my experience of entering this unpredictable place in hope and trust that things will come together in new and interesting ways. This blog, in part, will be a play-by-play of a leap of faith.

Though I do not wish to give this too religious of a tint, I am a very spiritual person, and I see this move as a development of my spiritual path. The predominant lessons I feel ready to receive relate to humility, trust, surrendering, intention, service, and gratitude for this astounding life. God, the Divine, the Great Spirit, the Great Mother, the Oversoul–what power exist beyond us communicates through signs. Lots of those signs, in my experience, are not what we would call ‘rational’. They appeal more to emotions, to impulses, to feelings. People are skeptical about feelings today. They think everything requires a plan. In my experience of traveling around and changing my life on a semi-frequent basis, the most life-changing moments of my path have come entirely unexpectedly. They have been the moments that upset the well-laid plan.

But then again, this day in age—and with me closing in on 30 and all—it’s important also to think of plans. It’s important to visualize where we are heading if we are to let the ground we’ve constructed crumble. As this blog develops, I will share many of my visualizations with you, for I have come to believe that the more we intend our actions toward our vision of a perfect world, the more we may take steps toward bringing that world to be. For now, I’ll let you know the specifics of my initial move, which will be underway as this blog is launched.

As of the moment of this piece’s writing, which is August 24th, 2017, I’ve dwindled my belongings to reside in my black Mazda3 and a small storage unit in Kansas City. On August 28th, I’ll drive through KC, pick up a few items, and trek onward to Ft. Collins, CO. There, through the nonprofit organization WWOOF, I will spend 30 hrs/week working on the aptly named Raisin’ Roots Farm, which specializes in growing over 40 varieties of produce.At this moment, I know precisely zero things about farming. By the end of October, I will have worked at least two hundred and forty hours on Raisin’ Roots Farm. I’m so dang fortunate these kind people have given me this opportunity to expand my knowledge of this ongoing physical process. 

IMG_3932
Stoked for some tasty apples!

In exchange for my labor, which appears to consist largely of diverse produce harvesting (and a little bit of pig raising), the kind folks at the farm will post me up in a camper with a twin bed, electricity, water, and a stove, providing me also with essential staples of a farm-fresh diet. As we now have it arranged, I will experience this great opportunity to learn from the earth and a service-oriented community until October 31st. After that, everything’s unknown again.

And it’s that great unknown that instills in me such a fear in publishing this blog, for I have no idea where my life is going. The many worries assault my mind! What if this whole plan crumbles and burns? What if reality forces me to work some boring-ass job not worth writing about? Wow, what a fool I will look like!

I’m planning to refrain from cursing in this blog as much as possible, but here, on the condition of an asterisk, I will allow: F*ck that fear! This sh*t’s happening! 

So there’s the framework for what’s to come in this seeker’s life. Thanks for tuning in to the beginning of this journey. I intend to update this blog with short posts (roughly 500-800 words) at least once a week. Once I get settled in at the farm, I plan to practice my photography skills to offer you glimpses into the farmland and the powerful, spiritual mountainous landscape. The world is animated in possibilities. I feel so thrilled and grateful to get to explore these unforeseeable horizons.