• Farmstead Shepherd

Waking into True Nature

I stood in my garden assessing the damage from the winter and the local wild rabbit. She had brutally pruned my raspberry bushes to nubs in the ground. Five of my ten fruit and berry trees were similarly maimed. I was delighted when suckers (plants that sprount from an underground root system off the main plant) from the raspberry plants started popping up... everywhere. I’m sure by next year this enthusiasm will be curbed, but for now I am thrilled the plants have made a come back. Little buds are developing into leaves on the brutalized tree remains. That vicious little rabbit couldn’t stop my trees from waking from their winters nap revitalized and ready to take on the summer.

You may not know this but rabbits are not aways sweet little balls of fluff. Oh no. I have a white, fluffy, adorable looking angora bunny, who will, with one look convince you she is the sweetest thing alive. Let me tell you a little something about her sweet and gentle ways... one day she was grooming herself, looking wildly adorable, when a little potato bug started to crawl over to her. I knew something was going to happen. Was she going to recoil in horror? How adorable. Or run away from a tiny bug? How cute. She leaned over to get a better look, sniffed it. Then in one swift action scooped it in her mouth, I could her the crunch 3 feet away - she bit it in half - spit it out and hopped away! I was horrified. How could she be so ruthless?!

Rabbits aren’t the only ones in my garden whose true nature may have gone unnoticed. I have a cherry tree that I overwintered in a pot, in a hole, in my garden. While the other berry and fruit trees were budding and showing signs of life, this cherry tree looked as though it didn’t make it. I couldn’t come to terms with that so I let it sit in the yard another week... and then another week and then another week more. Still no buds, no signs of life. My Currant bushes were in bloom - bright yellow flowers bursting off the branches, and still my Sand Cherry stood lifeless. Usually the buds appear on the trees over winter before spring is even close. But the Cherry tree was bare. Finally many weeks after everything else has come into bloom, there it was... the tiniest little pink bud. Then another. Apparently the Sand Cherry was on a different timeline than everyone else in the yard. Even to the extent that it would show the slightest sign of life. This makes sense in context though. The species of tree that it is, would be found on an open beach. At this time of year it would be exposed to cold temperatures and possibly still ice. What a brilliant adaptation, evident in it’s true nature to protect the Sand Cherry from the weather and environment.

I feel like the trees in winter - dormant. All my reserves are in my roots, deep inside. I feel the creative pieces stirring inside me, but like the Sand Cherry I cant produce any buds. I am seemingly failing to thrive. I see my friends and family able to do so much around me. I remember what it is like to do all these things. To bloom. But it has been many seasons since I last bloomed. I thought maybe I can’t bloom anymore. My time is over. This is just my life now. Resting in bed. Struggling to manage the barest of life’s daily tasks. Working with my goal to write a regular blog so I am doing/creating something with consistency. But maybe I am just like the Sand Cherry. I am out of place right now, and dormant because I am still in protection mode. My body is trying to protect me from what triggered the cascading failure that set my chronic illness in motion. Trying to slow it down and find a stable place to set that first bud out from.

If there was a triggering event for all of this to set off my genetic conditions, can there not be something to help wake me from my torpor? Some inciting event that rises from the inside in alignment with my true nature - like the Sand Cherry in late spring? I’m not speaking of a cure. I’m talking about a waking moment where I can find a way to work within my limitations, in a mindful and meaningful way. When I got sick I didn’t just lose my health, I lost my purpose. I have been stuck in the the limbo of “Now what?” since my ability to keep up with my business, my family and the world, left me.

There is much discourse on the cause of suffering. One of the perspectives describes a situation many of us with chronic illness face; masking, pushing and faking it so hard to just get through the day - to just be “normal.“ Which only makes me feel exhausted, my head floating away like a balloon, while my body is too heavy to move, and most painfully, I question the value of my self worth. But what if instead of pretending to be “OK”, instead of saying “I’m fine“ - when I am not - I embrace the not ok-ness. Ani Pema Chodron calls this kind of embracing, ‘groundlessness’. Venerable Nick Keomahavong speaks to this as the conflict of not living in congruence with ones ‘true nature.’ Doctors call the struggle and fatigue associated with living in this state of faking it, ‘depression’. If I rearrange these words, what I see is - groundlessness is the path to my true nature, which may alleviate the suffering of depression.

What does that really mean? It means work. It means it is time to let go of the sense of obligation to be someone I thought I was supposed to be. Its time embrace my true nature. Here are some things I have been journaling on, I hope you find it as helpful as I have...

How to Find Your True Nature

These journaling exercises can be done multiple times, to go deeper into the layers of conditioning and expectations we rise to, often without even thinking about it. Take the time time contemplate each prompt and how these behaviours impinge upon our true nature. By uncovering these subconscious conflicts, we can peel them back to reveal who we are underneath the expectations of the external world.

  1. We are conditioned from birth to perform certain behaviours, to be a good boy/girl, which may not be in alignment with our true nature. Can you list behaviours you feel compelled to do, even though you may find them exhausting and you may not really want to do them (entertain certain people, go certain places, be in large/small groups, be artistic/mathatical...).

  2. We are different people to different people. We rise to the expectations given to us by family, friends, and work. List your closest friends, a few family members and work personnel, as well as subtle changes in your behaviour around these different people.

  3. When we can’t say no. Boundaries are an important part of defining who we are. They also speak volumes to our sense of self worth. The further we are from our true nature the more challenges we may have exerting our use of the word ’no’. Who do you have difficulty saying ’no’ to? Can you express why it is hard to say no to them? In what circumstances do you have difficulty saying ‘no’? Are there times you feel your use of the word ’no’ or boundary setting will not be respected? What gives you that sense?

  4. The joy of alignment. What activities, people, environments bring you contentment? Where are you most comfortable in your own skin? Do you love water? Numbers? Music? Being in large groups of people? One to one with people? List all the ways you feel most you.

  5. To close to see it. Sometimes we are too close to see ourselves clearly. We have thrashed around in the water so much we have muddied it up and can’t see a thing! Ask family and long time friends about what you were like when you were little. What made you excited? What made you shy? Sometimes a view from the outside can be helpful. Remember that everyone has their own set of blinders on though, so only take the information that resonates with you and leave the rest. They saw life through their own perspective and it may not reflect your true experience.

  6. At this point you may have a list of things that bring you contentment and things that shut you down. Can you start to see a picture forming of who you really are? What areas of your life are you living in line with your true nature? What areas are you pushing, struggling, pretending and wasting precious energy trying to be someone you aren’t? Can you start to slowly shift one area of your life closer into alignment with your true nature?

With chronic illness this is even more important to figure out. We have such limited energy, there is no more energy left to pretend. No energy left to fake it. To push through. To tough it out. It may take time to get through, and yes, energy. But I assure you, it is worth it and ultimately it will be an a amazing energy conservation device.

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