Welcome, dear readers, to another month of taking metta off the meditation cushion and out into the world.
Last month’s article, Metta’s Harvest, celebrated discovering a fellow meditator amid pressing times volunteering at a small, family-run vineyard. This month found me moving on to literally chopping wood and carrying water.
My helpmate harvesting apples, pears, and grapes unexpectedly had to cut their volunteering short. And in helping them compose their cancelation email to their next placement at a forestry project, I unexpectedly felt the pull to offer to replace them.
A few days later, the swap was accepted.
I hugged them goodbye and, finding myself alone in the accommodation for the first time in four months, I spent a few days giving it some long-overdue householder metta before its winter hibernation: I laundered all the linens, vacuumed all the carpets, serviced all the appliances, unblocked all the u-bends—after the upstairs shower finally gave up the ghost and leaked into the kitchen below!—and, most importantly, blessed all the dramas that had come and gone this past summer.
My host and I sat down for a chat about next steps, and they thanked me for both my sense of fun and my sanity throughout. We agreed it was all grist for the mill for an eventual screenplay, and had a good laugh casting our future box-office hit. Perhaps Helen Mirren could play her at the start of the summer . . . and Helena Bonham-Carter at the close?
After both the accommodation and I fully exhaled, a new friend I had made in the area came to visit. An experienced energy healer of several decades, I intentionally let her form her own impression while showing her around. She marveled at the beauty of the spent vines and fruit trees dropping their colorful autumn leaves, and how peaceful my own energy felt.
However, when I then showed her around the volunteer accommodation, she stopped dead on the threshold of one particular room and pointed to a “portal” on the ceiling—an opening between worlds—with parasitic energies pouring in! She teased that despite how much metta and elbow grease I may have put into restoring peace, I could easily spend the rest of my life doing so unless we closed it now.
I silently joined her in a blessing to sew up all such energetic rifts on the property, secretly marveling at how her description matched my own experience of the dozen or so “takers” that had stayed under that roof in recent months. Had the parasitic energies opened the door to the takers? Or had the takers opened the door to the parasitic energies? Either way, I was grateful that both were no longer welcome here.
After I thanked her for her help and we said our goodbyes, I took a long bath—water that thankfully stayed in the tub this time—and truly laughed until I cried: metta’s work here now felt truly done.
The following night at my farewell dinner, I took the risk of sharing the visit with my host family and, interestingly, out poured everyone’s stories of uneasy feelings and experiences when they first moved in. They knew of a book chronicling the land’s history back to when it became a gift to a French nobleman for their help with the Norman Conquest. They had even invited a feng shui expert to visit, who had suggested blocking the front gate with a boulder as the site was leaking so much chi!
The energy drain clearly wasn’t a new phenomenon, and we had all individually done what we knew how to stem it. We toasted the closed parasitic portals as hopefully the final puzzle piece in restoring balance for all.
My new placement is in the next county, barely an hour’s drive away. And yet it may as well have been on another planet, what with swapping vineyards and orchards for woodlands, and accommodation dramas for peaceful communal chaos.
On my first day joining four other volunteers—as well as four dogs—clearing walking paths proved good fun. Those with chainsaw skills felled trees that were diseased, blocking paths, or dominating the canopy above to let in more light, while the rest of us snedded* what came down. We created brash piles out of the resulting twigs for small mammals, dragged the bigger branches out of the way to rot down, and transported trunks to the wood yard for splitting into firewood billets or for woodworking projects such as whittling spoons.
Being the least experienced in forestry out of our group, I had to laugh at how quickly the Dharma mixed its metaphors of “before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water—after enlightenment, chop wood and carry water,” by having this meditator carry wood to enlighten forest floors and mop floors to enlighten evil spirits.
I also often thought of Julia Butterfly Hill, an American environmental activist who “tree sat” a 1,000-year-old redwood she named Luna for two entire years (1997–1999) to protect her and a buffer zone of 200-meters and raise awareness of the damage caused by clear cutting ancient forests.
Back in 2022, it was fascinating to watch the lumberjacks in action: felling a tree could take up to an hour to plan and set up—depending on the angles and direction—minutes to cut down, and days to redistribute across the site depending on the resulting timber.
What fascinated me even more was how quickly natural teamwork kicked in, especially the human chains we formed to hand logs to one another to stack them somewhere sheltered from the elements. We shifted huge woodpiles and completed household chores nearly wordlessly and in minutes. It was like the support I had felt last month from one fellow meditator supersized to a whole, yet still-unknown team.
I sat with my experiences trimming hedgerows in June (as described in Metta Clears a Path) and pruning grapevines in August (as described in Metta’s Fuller Circles) to clearing woodland paths and splitting logs this November. Rather than feeling anger and frustration, as I often had over the summer, I now found myself laughing at how easily we seemed to know what to do without always knowing what we were doing to get a job done.
And, as I contrasted all that I was learning with Julia Butterfly Hill’s own amazing “sit,” it dawned on me that sometimes the most harmful course of action in one phase can be the most healing in the next.
Anitya, anitya . . .
Alongside clearing paths through the woodland for walkers and riders, we also cleared the riding—several meters on either side—so pools of sunlight could reach the ground to give slower- or smaller-growing tree species such as oak a chance to catch-up, and to germinate dormant seeds in the soil’s seed bank.
Essentially, allowing more light and breathing space increases growth and biodiversity.
At this early stage, the work can look like devastation to passersby. By spring next year, it will look better than it ever has.
And so, dear readers, whatever portals may need closing or whichever paths may need clearing in our own lives, please remember that help can arrive when we least expect it, and in forms that we may not yet recognize.
Or, to metta-morphose the lyrics of Shania Twain’s song “Life’s About To Get Good,” which she wrote about the “twisted, but so beautifully twisted” end of her first marriage (her husband left her for her best friend) making way for her second marriage (to the husband of her best friend):
The longer my tears fell, the wider the river
It killed me that you’d give your life to be with her
I had to believe metta that things would get better
It was time to forget you forever
Oh! Life’s about joy, life’s about pain
It’s all about forgiving, and the will to walk away
I’m ready to be loved, and love the way I should
Life’s about, life’s about to get good
* Snedding can mean trimming branches of anything extraneous. It can also mean inviting in evil spirits!
Adventures in Treesitting (YouTube)