I don't really believe in enlightenment. But I'd still like to be enlightened.
Just seems like a cool state to be in. Akin to stoned, I suppose (a state of being I'm much more familiar with), but without having to imbibe psychoactive substances.
So I like to think that our yard is enlightening me, chore by chore. After 25 years of taking care of our non-easy-care property in rural south Salem, Oregon, I've had plenty of time to ponder the Meaning Of It All.
For a long time I envisioned that what I was doing with all my mowing, fertilizing, weeding, planting, chopping, trimming, and such was keeping our yard in a condition that we could sit back and enjoy after all the work was done.
Yeah, I know. That sounds stupid, doesn't it? I can't believe that I actually believed this for so long, because it never came to pass.
OK, not so much never, as rarely.
During that quarter century the moments we've sat on our deck and adoringly gazed at our landscaping have been far exceeded by the moments my wife and I have been busting our butts taking care of the damn yard.
That's how I've viewed it much of the time, sort of akin to a high-maintenance lover that you can't bear to part with because she's so seductively attractive, but damn, it sure would be nice if she didn't need so much attention.
Today, as I was watering, mowing, and edging, I was struck more than ever by a truism whose truth I continually keep remembering and forgetting, remembering and forgetting, remembering and forgetting.
(Maybe enlightenment is doing neither?)
As soon as I make a distinction between what I'm doing, and the hoped-for enjoyment produced by what I'm doing, I'm screwed. Then I'm on the Hamster Wheel of Happiness where, I imagine, just one more freaking movement of my paws will result in me getting to a blessed state of rest.
Problem is, I never get there. The big wheel of my life just keeps on turning, exactly as Tina Turner said way back when.
Doing my yard maintenance thing this afternoon, I felt more of my someday illusions falling away.
All of the enjoyment I'm ever going to get from our yard, every bit of it, is part and parcel of me wrestling the mower around tight corners, edging the grass with dry dust and bark flying up and hitting me in the face, carrying heavy bags of fertilizer around, digging holes for new plants in rocky hard clay soil.
If I'm not enjoying our yard while I'm out working in it, then when am I?
In that mythical moment when nothing else is on my mind except Yard Enjoyment? In that fantasized time when I'm calm, relaxed, peaceful, at ease with the world, gazing upon our yard with serene satisfaction?
Yeah, right. Not going to happen.
Waiting for a time to arrive that isn't this time is me jumping back on the Hamster Wheel of Happiness. After sixty-six years of scurrying along on my little paws, you'd think I'd have realized by now that the motion of the wheel is identical to the flow of my enjoyment.
Which reminds me of our waterfall and bubbler. Doesn't look like much in this photo, does it? That's because the water in the real thing is constantly flowing, making pleasant water-sounds. Freezing reality in a photo captures some of it, but leaves out the most important part.
Movement. Life. Energy.
Paying attention seems to be the main lesson our yard is teaching me.
Awareness. Mindfulness. Whatever meaningless bullshit word I come up with that doesn't begin to describe the Zen'ish hit-me-with-a-stick enlightenment moments I keep on having, and keep on forgetting, while doing yard work.
When I'm simply doing whatever it is I'm doing, enjoyment freely flows out of my hamster wheel of doing.
When I'm bitching and complaining and feeling sorry for myself and looking forward to getting these goddamn chores done because I'm too old for all this yard-care crap and when the hell am I going to be able to sit back and be that relaxed retired guy I thought I'd be -- that's when our yard turns into the insufferable high-maintenance bitch I wish would get out of my life.
I learned this lesson back in college, 1968 I think it was, when I spent a summer working in a San Jose cannery. But like I keep saying, I'm good at forgetting stuff that needs remembering.
Then, benzedrine, "bennies," was my teacher.
Working the night shift, assigned the shittiest jobs because I was new, I'd find myself stooping under the conveyor belts, wearing rain gear, holding a high pressure hose, my job being to keep fruit pulp from accumulating on the concrete floor.
For half the night, until my "lunch" break at 3 am, or thereabouts, I hated that job. Hated it with a passion. All it took was a single benzedrine with my meal to change my outlook completely.
Then I loved my hosing.
With complete attention to what I was doing, no thought of anything else, because my mind was zeroed in like a laser on the One Thing to be done, I washed the pulp down drains with exquisite artistic grace.
Yes, neurotransmitters in my brain had been altered by the benzedrine. So arguably I was in an unnatural state of consciousness. I just don't feel like making that argument. The dividing line between "natural" and "unnatural" is so fuzzy, it might as well be nonexistent.
I felt sort of similar this afternoon.
During most of the time I worked in our yard I was enjoying what I was doing because I wasn't resisting it. I wasn't wishing that I was doing something else. I wasn't looking upon the chores as being a prerequisite to a higher state of yard-happiness.
I was simply doing what I was doing.
Which, writing those eight words just now, seems like a marvelously inane thing to say. Well, so be it. I'm losing my ability to tell the difference between inane and wise, meaningless and meaningful, shallow and profound.
This is part of an area in our yard that I started working on last winter. We'd let it go, in part because it lies under some large fir and oak trees that drop copious leaves, branches, needles, and such.
Over the years all sort of brushy plants had taken root in the area. It looked natural, but not in a pleasing way. So I took it upon myself to remove all of the vegetation aside from the native Oregon Grape. This required a lot of cutting, hauling, and burning.
Along with painstaking care, sorting out the strands of Oregon Grape from all of the other woody stuff that had taken root in the area. After that was done, I bought containers of Oregon Grape from a nursery, along with native Bearberry ground cover.
Planting that stuff was, um, a bear.
A gardener guy who helps us out did some of the planting, but I did most of it. The man who owned our house before us had a cement mixer next to that area. The top of it, and the slope, is filled with gravel and small rocks.
Was it worth all the time and effort I put into it?
I don't like that question. Not any more. Not in my mildly-enlightened state of mind our yard has helped me achieve after twenty-five years of living here.
Worth implies there is a difference between that word and time and effort. I've enjoyed all the work I've put into this part of our yard. Today I enjoyed watering the recently-planted Oregon Grape and Bearberry. Maybe it will die. Maybe it won't grow very well. Maybe it won't look very good.
So be it.
More and more, I'm letting go of expectations for our yard. It is what it is. Here. Now.
I can't say that I'm totally absorbed in my own yard-care consciousness, though. Everything my wife and I do seems to revolve around a higher power we bow down to with abject devotion.