Mastery~ Far From It!

Every year, right about now, as the gardens and the beehives swell, and I am mulching squash plants and splitting yet another hive, I begin to wonder about mastery.

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Why this is, I am not yet sure, but I think it has something to do with how much there is to accomplish at this accelerated time of year, and how very far from accomplishment I often feel. As I search for the queen bees within my own colonies, I marvel at the human being who has practiced something for long enough that there is an easeful and natural ability to give oneself to the task at hand, without a single thought of “how?” I marvel at the one, who no longer has a need to define himself by what he does, for the practice itself, defines who he is. I have been working with bees for 7 years, and there is no question, I am still a beginner.

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Yes, it has recently become clear to me that I have met very few masters in my life thus far, and those I have met do not call attention to their skills, because at some point in the practice, there is no longer a distinction between the person and the skill. At the point of mastery, the skill and the person become one, and then the very idea of mastery itself dissolves. What is left, is the one who is practicing his life with a quality of mindful and spirited dedication that results in profound skilfulness.

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When I meet a master (and I have only ever met 3 in my whole life, 2 beekeepers and 1 gardener) there is in my own heart a reverence, a deep down appreciation for the one who gives his whole self to his heart-song, for a long period of time, until the passion and the craft and the person are a radiant expression of ardent accomplishment. This to me, is one of the most beautiful expressions of the human being and it takes time, a very long and humbling and dedicated time.

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When I look around, at this modern time, I see a world that celebrates the “idea of mastery” but this itself, is not mastery, at least not to my mind. Mastery, as far as I can tell, is not an idea or a goal even. Rather, it is the natural result of dedication and practice. It is what happens when we give ourselves to something for such a long period of time that we become the very thing we are practicing, and this is not an instant process. The fruit on the vine takes time.

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This however, is just my opinion, and I am fairly convinced that our modern culture does not share my view, for we live in a time that celebrates the notion of mastery and not the journey to mastery. The world is full of Master Beekeepers and Master Gardeners and Master Shamans all offering weekend workshops. I know, because I have taken some of these workshops myself, hoping to rub up against a true master, hoping to leave with a little more knowing; a little bit of secret knowledge in my pocket, I was, more than once, sadly disappointed. It seems as though everybody is “a teacher” these days and fewer and fewer people are interested in the role of the student. ( I might just add, that the Queen Rearing Workshop I attended this weekend did not fall into this category and that I give my whole-hearted thanks to Frank and Urs, for the decades of experience you both have in the realm of bees and your humble wisdom gleaned there).

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And so, you must be wondering what any of this has to do with Honey Grove? To which, I can only reply: Everything really. You see, here at Honey Grove, we have found ourselves on a journey, living lives that insist that we keep practicing the things that we love. Our days are filled with equal parts success and failure and there is not a great deal of instant learning, save for lessons like: Do not leave beekeeping record book in the bee-yard during a rainstorm (instant lesson learned). Yes, our lives here are a mixture of continued practice and heart-felt dedication and although we are a world away from mastery, there is a deep respect for the process, a deep and humbling respect that can bring you to your knees on a regular basis, wondering what in Gawd’s name we have signed up for.

Between you and I, I do not believe it is appropriate to call ourselves: Beekeepers or Bakers or Gardeners or Salumi Makers. I would prefer to say that we grow gardens and that we have bees, that Mark bakes bread, Cohen cures meat and Katie shares her passion for food culture. For what is the part of our human nature that needs so desperately to “be something?”  And I wonder, why can the doing itself not be enough, for surely, at the end of the day, the doing is all there is? And if we are doing it, why do we feel we need to declare it?

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Honey Grove, more than anything else is an exploration of our passions and heaven knows where it is leading us, but it is clear to me now that we are still at the beginning of our journey. With any luck we will meet a few more masters before we get to the end of our lives, but until then, our only hope, as far as I can tell, is to keep on keeping on.

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And speaking of keeping on, I really should be signing off, for I have pulled the first honey off the hives this year and I must get spinning it.

Until Soon~ Thank You for your Company,

Nao, Mark, Gus, Cohen, Katie and All at Honey Grove.

And then, it has just occurred to me that I have actually met 4 masters in my life. One of them is Gus, who has certainly become one with his practice. A practice which I can only describe as Loving Kindness. And according to Gus: “Loving Kindness is only a practice until you realize it is the true reality and that Love is All there is.”

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Engaged, to be or not to be.

Recently, a conversation arose over dinner. It just popped up from that invisible place that all good conversations do, out of nowhere and everywhere all at once.

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It came into the world in a similar way to the family of morel mushrooms that Mark found while he was refuelling his chainsaw, on bended knee, near the orchard last week.

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And it went something like this: How is it, that we at this modern time, have become so very disconnected with the processes that bring our food from farm to table?

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And without getting long-winded and political, because lets face it, there is enough hot air in the world, and there are all kinds of answers to this question that have something to do with machines and factory farming and organic verses GMO (which are all important and heart-breaking and discouraging things to ponder/be aware of/do whatever we can about) but for this evening at least, this is not where we went. No, the conversation that popped up at our dinner table was less about what is wrong with the world, and more about what being involved in the process of our own food/homesteading/lives really looks like. And what a heartening conversation it was. Each of us brought something different to the table and what emerged was a more complete picture of what it is that we are attempting to do out here, on this 6 acre parcel of good earth, that we have named Honey Grove.

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And now, you are going to ask me, what is it that we are attempting to do? And this is a fair question, but difficult to answer in a concrete way, for it is not a fixed equation. The best way to describe what we found around our old picnic table that sweet spring eve, has something to do with being engaged in living. That is to say, it has something to do with being in relationship to the environment in which one finds oneself, to the plants and the soil and the animals that we are, each and all of us, undeniably a part of.

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Our conversation brought us into the awareness that we are as much a part of the ground that we stand upon, as it, is a part of us. That we are not outside our environment looking down upon it from some omnipotent place, but rather, that we are within it, just as it is within us.

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Last year, squatting down over a beautiful savoy cabbage, under the intense heat of the August sun barefoot and sun brown, I realized for the first time that my garden is creating me as much as I am creating it. I recognized that our relationship began the moment that I stepped onto this land with nothing more than the idea to grow a garden. That we, my garden and I, were in a relationship before and during and after, I tilled the earth and planted the seeds, before and after Cohen turned that savoy cabbage into kimchi, and we ate it.

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Yes, there is a deep appreciation for the process that comes when we are engaged, a kind of unnamable respect for the earth that nourishes the seed, for the seed that grows into a plant to nourish the human-being, for the human being that tills and toils. And Cohen will say the same about animal husbandry, about the relationship between the one who gives his life and the one who takes it. Whenever people ask him what exactly he learned from those Old World Italian salumi-makers, he says this: “I learned Reverence and Respect.”

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David Abrams, writer and philosopher describes this quality of engaged connection in his book, The Spell of the Sensuous, when he says:

“It is not a private, but a collective dimension-the common field of our lives and the lives of others with which ours are entwined.”

He calls this common field, our “life-world” and it is the world of our immediately lived experience, prior to all thoughts about it. This life-world includes the rivers and the lakes and the sea and the stones and the trees and the flowers and the sky and the clouds and all of the winged, two legged and four legged ones.

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The invitation then, as far as I can tell, is to be engaged in this life-world to the best of our ability. To be willing to be in relationship fully, with all that we are, in body, heart and mind. For the first time in my nearly middle life, I understand why my Swiss neighbour tastes the soil that she plants her carrots seeds in and says, in her thick European accent  “too sour.” And I am beginning to appreciate why it is that the sourdough bread that Mark makes tastes different from that sourdough bread that Katie makes, because each of those loaves has something of Mark and Katie in them, that is not solely to do with a recipe.

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Mark recently told me that the yeast in a sourdough starter, the magical yeast that makes the whole thing happen, is not in the flour, or the air, or the water. He told me that when the scientists looked and looked they could not find the origin of that yeast, until one day they realized, that it was on the baker. And there is something about this, something I cannot describe, except to say, that it took my mind away completely.

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Yes, we are a part of this world and this world is a part of us. Somehow and for uncountable reasons, some known and some unknown, we have been led to believe otherwise. I personally believe that at the root of this disconnect there is a fear that if we fully engage with life we might suffer more, that we might feel more, and that it might be painful. The thing is, I am fairly convinced that there will be suffering regardless of whether we choose to engage or not, in fact, I will be bold and say that I believe we might suffer even more by not being engaged with life.

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For to be engaged with life, is also to make room for happiness to arise, and for love to enter. And such things can only enter if we are awake to the present moment, engaged in what is happening right here, right now. As time goes by, I am slowly coming to realize that I cannot will happiness (and I am a very willful human being, who has practiced more tight-smiles and cheerful hellos than I can bare to think about). No, happiness cannot be insisted upon or forced, but if I am paying attention, if I am engaged in my “life-world,” I can be there for it’s arrival, and when happiness enters, love comes with it and everything is made more beautiful. I would even venture to say that everything tastes better, from lettuce to bread to sauerkraut to sausage. And so, these days on Honey Grove, we are endeavouring to be engaged with this good earth in which/on which/by which we live, baking bread, curing salumi, growing gardens, planting seeds, turning compost, collecting eggs, tending bees.

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Oh and Katie is teaching us all how to engage with our world through our sense of smell. Last week she built an incredible aroma board made up of over 50 different items and for the better part of a sunny afternoon, she lead a group of us through a honey tasting, nose first.

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I can only begin to tell you how fascinating this was and I highly recommend it! You can learn more about Katie’s Sensory Analysis Workshops Here.

Now, I must go, for I have spent far too long at this keyboard today and there are gardens to water and more mulch to lay.

May this find you in the midst of a beautiful day, fully engaged with your life-world~

Nao, Mark, Gus, Cohen, Katie and All at Honey Grove.

PS- Gus says that being engaged with life is easy. According to him, it is our nature to be engaged, and if you add to this his secret of the Universe, which is “not to worry,” you cannot go wrong. If you do this (as he suggests) he guarantees that you will experience much happiness and that love will enter your world, because, according to Dog Sages, The Beatles and Indian Mystics everywhere: Love is all there is.

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