Sunday, March 16, 2014

Of Farming, Philosophy & Self-Actualization

The great lesson is that the sacred is in the ordinary…That it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends and family…in one’s backyard.
                                                                                     (Abraham Maslow)

            Abraham Maslow is one of those I’d have at my imaginary dinner party. You know, when they ask what figures in history you’d group around your table? I think he’d hit it off great with Emerson and Thoreau talking about self-sufficiency and sustainable living (topics that, btw, seem to be all the rage these days). Of course, classic thinkers like these would fit into any time period. I only wish we had more like ‘em living today.
            As I gear up to start this year’s garden, folks like Maslow come to mind. Gardens are great places to dig, not just in the dirt, but into your soul. Leave it to Mother Earth to provide fodder for contemplating while cultivating. I’ve found that common dirt has a unique way of nurturing lots more than just plants. It can grab your soul if you let it. It’s hard to be around something so miraculous as that first little corn sprout starting to sprig out of the earth or your first tomato plant turning from small to large, then from green to red, and not marvel at how everything has its own unique design, purpose and plan for its lifespan. Each plant knows what it wants to be when it grows up. There’s no second guessing or wishing it was something else.
            Maslow was also the one to propose that man lives by a “hierarchy of needs” which culminates in what he called “self actualization”. According to his theory, humans have needs, the first being survival (breathing, food, water, sleep) after which we move up the ladder to meet slightly more complex needs. Second rung of the ladder: safety needs (security, employment, resources to live by). Having met these, we move up the ladder again to psychological and interactive needs (family, friendships, loving relationships) and then, once all these needs are addressed, “self actualization” become the goal and focus…But you can’t address this one till all the other needs are met.
Self-actualization basically means you discover and become your own unique actual self, fulfilling the desires you and you alone have for your life. It starts in knowing what specifically brings contentment to your inner being, and it develops into charting a course so that you actually live the life you were put on the planet to live. Some have argued this is self-ish, after all, if everyone wanted to be a rock star, who’s left to collect the garbage? But self-actualization goes deeper than this. It’s not about living a pipe dream. And more important, it’s not about living somebody else’s dream. It’s about taking time to know what drives you, then making small incremental adjustments in the day to day of your life to align your life’s decisions with that drive. When it gets down to it, giving yourself permission to ask “What exactly Do I want for my life?” is the first step toward self-actualization, as happiness (i.e. living your life fully) can only take place when a) your other needs are met and b) you recognize what motivates you then c) you hitch your proverbial wagon to it, and adjust your life accordingly til you’re living it.
            Gardens provide oodles of examples self-actualization at work. After all, a tomato plant knows precisely what it’s going to be when it grows up, as does a kernel of corn, as does a watermelon seed. You don’t see okra wishing it could be a pepper or blackberries resenting that they aren’t red like strawberries. Every seed planted comes with its own internal coding, directing it to become a larger version of itself someday…Becoming that actual self is the goal.
            As with seeds, so with us. I sincerely believe we are each born with an internal drive to become something bigger. Our job? To get still long enough to discover what that something bigger is. (And here’s a hint: turning inward, not outward is the key.)  These desires (like an acorn wired to become a mighty oak) come encased in a kernel of a drive that nudges you when you lean into it and nags at you when you don’t. Your father may’ve wanted you to be a doctor, but if your seed is coded to teach inner city kids, all the guilt trips in the world won’t make you long to be a doctor. If you were born into a 4th generation of lawyers and you long to play the violin, I suspect you better get ready to disappoint your family, or else live a life of internal disappointment yourself, because that code of desire inside of you will drive you nuts till you get on track with your wiring and align your life choices with the coding you came in with .
            Granted, most farmers I know don’t dwell on these things like I do, nor do they think they were coded from birth to be a farmer. Most I know (like Thurman) are so humble, they probably don’t think of themselves as living any big dream or being something so fancy as “self actualized” at all. But to me, a person like Thurman is in fact, one of the most self actualized people I’ve ever met. I believe with all my heart that the life he lives, day after day after day, with little to no recognition, save for the fulfillment of having put in an honest day’s work…is every bit as much of a calling as a preacher or an opera singer. Only difference is, he doesn’t play to packed houses. He plays to an audience of one: namely, himself, and after that, his family and his friends.
            Whether they dwell on it or not, folks like Thurman are living proof of Maslow’s theory… Yes, he’s teaching me about farming, but more, he’s teaching me about life. Time with Thurman reminds me that the sacred IS in the ordinary. It’s not out there somewhere in the vast unknown, but it’s been right here all along, literally …as close as my own back (or in my case, front) yard.

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