It’s cold here in Vermont — on Thursday it rained, snowed, hailed, and was sunny, cloudy, and windy all in one day.
April is tricky like this, bringing us birdsong and melting snow, but also testing our resolve.
When it’s dry enough, we can work the beds outside. When it’s too wet, we can work in the greenhouse and hoop house.
But sometimes, we have to remember one of the most important practices of farming:
To do nothing.
That is, to simply observe.
To quiet the voices of hustle and speed. To slow down long enough and lean in close enough to see what’s really happening.
Without observation, we don’t know what the plants actually need.
Without observation, we don’t know when the soil needs another half day to dry out before being broadforked and harrowed.
Without observation, we don’t know if it’s time to pull the straw off the garlic.
I have to admit, I don’t always want to slow down enough to observe —
I want answers now. I don’t want to have to walk through the bumpy transitions of seasons, or to breathe into what I’m feeling long enough to look closely.
Because to look closely means I’m going to see what’s causing the problem.
To look closely means I’ll have to go right to the heart of pain or disease or a mistake. To look closely means I can no longer ignore the stress of plants or the anxiety inside myself.
The hardest part of observation is the moment before looking closely.
This is the moment ballooned with fear of what’s actually happening, of whose fault it is, of what will come after. (I’m talking about myself now, not the plants anymore).
This is the last moment of shirking responsibility.
Everything after requires leaning in, learning, and taking action.
The last few weeks I’ve found myself waking and falling asleep with a pit of anxiety in my chest. It’s small right now, and it’s a familiar enough feeling that I can ignore it for a while.
But I’ve been in relationship with anxiety long enough to know it’s only going to spread its roots like witchgrass — and slowing down to look closely at what’s underneath the stress is more effective than running from one task to another.
And that’s the best part of observation:
When you actually slow down and look closely, you get to the solution so much faster than if you keep hustling.
My mantra of the moment is Here I am.
In the midst of the COVID-19 Stay Home orders, the work of spring prep and planting on the farm, and taking care of our son, so many hard feelings can sprout up.
But when I breathe deep and simply say, Here I am, that pit of anxiety begins to soften.
Instead of propagating, I feel its roots untangle, its power release.
For me, anxiety comes from the fear of not being or doing enough. Getting quiet, looking close, and breathing deep reminds me there is nowhere else I can be than right here.
And on the farm, saying Here I am reminds me to reach down and grab a handful of soil. To peek under the straw and see the garlic shooting up. To hear the question in my child’s voice and know it’s time to stop working and start playing.
The power of observation and slowing down is that we get more done in the long run — more informed and enlightened action leads to fewer mistakes and more growth.
So whether you’re observing your internal landscape or your external landscape, your heart or your garden, give yourself the space and time to root in.
To breathe deep.
To go slow enough to be gentle to yourself and the soil that feeds you.
And one more thing — if you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, depressed, stuck, anxious, you don’t have to go it alone.
Like plants in the garden, we’re made to be connected. A seed needs soil, water, sunlight, fungi, and more in order to grow strong. As people, we need a diverse network of support, too.
Even before COVID-19, there have been stretches of time I’ve needed extra support. Personally, therapy has helped me get the nourishment I need. Now the pandemic has stressed all of us in a new way, and I want you to know that it’s okay and good to ask for help.
Mental health isn’t often talked about on farms, but it’s just as important as soil health.
When you need support, think of it like adding compost or turning on the irrigation for your crops.
There are people and organizations and hotlines there to help you as you slow down, untangle the roots of anxiety or whatever it is you may be dealing with, and to find the nourishment you need.
Here are a few apps and organizations that can help:
Insight Timer – I use this meditation app almost daily and love the bells and ability to set multiple timers for different meditations. It also comes with guided meditations and classes.
Headspace – I haven’t used this, but have friends who love it.
Talkspace – If you don’t have a therapist already, Talkspace is a way to find a licensed therapist. I haven’t used this, but have friends who’ve recommended it to me.
Crisis Textline – If you’re in need of fast, anonymous support, you can use this textline to connect with a trained counselor.
I’m not a doctor or psychologist and don’t pretend to be one. I encourage you to reach out to your health care provider if you’re looking for recommendations on how to deal with excess stress, anxiety, or depression.
Remember, your inner landscape is just as important as your outer landscape. The words soil and soul are just one letter apart — be sure to tend to both.