Welcome, dear readers, to another month of taking metta off the meditation cushion and out into the world.
Last month’s article, “Sowing the Seeds of Metta,” found me invoking the local Earth Mother goddess to help a regenerative farm in the Cotswolds where I’m still volunteering. This month found me stepping right up for my fellow growers (regular readers may remember “Metta Puts the Kettle On,” an article from a few years back about serving my fellow servers during “silly season”—how the Christmas period is also known behind closed kitchen doors in the hospitality industry).
Feeding their organic produce the best possible nutrients in terms of compost and water and daily attention, market garden growers can easily deplete themselves trying to nourish others. Especially at the height of the summer growing season, when crops such as tomatoes and beans and courgettes and cucumbers are ripening so rapidly that they need harvesting daily before turning too sour or tough or big or bitter to eat!
When our head grower unexpectedly excused herself to take a telephone call from her doctor, I gently probed afterward whether all was well. She smiled bravely and explained she was being referred for a colonoscopy. The paradox of her growing such nutritious produce in the face of a potentially life-changing digestive diagnosis wasn’t lost on me, and I offered my support as needed.
A few days later, she rang me after hours to take me up on that offer as the local hospital had a last-minute appointment the following day and recommended someone pick her up and stay with her while the sedatives wore off.
And so, rather than feed and water and harvest our crops that day, I tended to our head grower instead. Luckily, the procedure went as smoothly as possible and confirmed that rather than a life-threatening diagnosis, she had a condition which could be managed through diet. She dove straight into bed, and I could tell from the state of the kitchen that she and her housemate—also a grower who had recently lost a relative to suicide—hadn’t spent much time there in the past few weeks.
It was clearly time to nourish the nourishers.
I rolled up my sleeves, washed all the dishes, and prepared a cauldron of homemade vegetable soup with all the beautiful produce from both their respective work gardens languishing in the fridge.
In went fresh beans, carrots, beetroot, onions, garlic, tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes, mushrooms, a handful of red lentils, some veg stock, fresh herbs, and plenty of metta to simmer down for the afternoon. Meanwhile, I restored the kitchen into a welcoming space for the recovering patient as she emerged between catnaps and for her housemate as she returned from work.
Back at the farm the following day, the rest of the team were excitedly discussing the program of events at the national land skills fair we were to attend that weekend. It was heartwarming to observe everyone pitch in what others might need: someone with a car offered to sherpa luggage for a parent taking her two young children on the train, someone else offered me a tent as they knew I had no camping gear with me, someone else attending in their live-in vehicle offered the use of their kitchen to anyone who wanted to prepare a hot meal over the weekend, and so on and so forth.
The drive there, car-sharing with teammates who had never attended before, crackled with excitement and high-spirited debate over the different talks and tours and demonstrations we hoped to attend over the next three days.
As we pitched our tents, someone shrieked my name and I looked up to see one of my friends from a previous placement bounding over to welcome me. It was one of many bittersweet reunions that weekend with vulnerable volunteers from former placements and it became obvious that they were still overdoing their recreational drug use under the spell of energy vampires.
While I was genuinely happy to see them all, sensing the pain and manipulation that they were still denying was not unlike pretending an elephant wasn’t stomping through the tents all around us looking for its ring master and circus tent.
As I unfolded my borrowed tent, I discovered that it was missing its poles. Before I even had time to worry ahead of the predicted rainstorms, a teammate remembered an ultralight tent he had stowed in his car for solo expeditions. It was easily the smallest and lightest tent amid the hundreds mushrooming around us: a walking stick served as its central pole, and its flysheet was translucent—rather than dark green or blue or brown like most of the others—not unlike our growers’ polytunnels.
First on everyone’s itinerary was a tour of the farm hosting the festival, given by none other than our head grower’s former mentor. She had done her two-year apprenticeship at this site, and it tickled me to meet the person who had one taught our head grower what she was now teaching me this summer!
Like kids let loose in a candy store, our head grower (already happily back on her feet) and I flitted from one event tent to the next hoping to sample every talk and demonstration on offer. And so we stumbled upon possibly the most interesting talk of the weekend, given her recent health scare: a panel on sustainable death.
Four panelists each shared how they applied their ecological concerns to an unpopular subject: one felted woolen shrouds, one wove willow coffins, one was a birth and transition doula, and the last was an ethical butcher who only butchered game animals she hunted herself.
As each explained their unexpected journeys as interrupters of the industry of death and dying, the hundred or so attendees listening began to open up in depth about how death had interrupted their lives with early or recent or unexpected bereavements through illness or accident or suicide.
One older woman in the audience then lightened the mood by reminding the willow-coffin maker of the bicycle baskets she used to weave as a child in preparation for her eventual career. I chuckled to myself, remembering Elliott’s attempts to deliver E.T. “home” on his bicycle! And another attendee brought up the newly-emerging trend of “recomposing”— that is composting human bodies instead of burning or burial or organ donation. The audience composed mainly of organic farmers and growers had a good laugh at the idea of this concept ever interrupting mainstream agriculture.
The nourishers nourishing to their very end, indeed.
Even more interesting to this metta meditator was that the willow coffin weaver and the doula were running immersion sessions the following day, whereby individuals could book a half-hour guided meditation in a coffin she had crafted to imagine a zero-dig version of their death. This brought to mind Buddhist death-mimicking practices in Asia I’d read about previously, whereby householders can either lie in a coffin or bury specific belongings to receive a New Year’s blessing and monks taking going one step further being buried alive in a shallow grave with breathing space to meditate on their eventual death.
When I tried to sign up, I found that the sessions were already full. However, very early the following morning, I experienced my own immersion cocooned in the dawn sunlight as I discovered the true magic of my little ultralight tent’s translucence. It inspired me to continue nourishing the nourishers in another way with an early morning walk and blessing of the hushed sea of tents and live-in vehicles.
Only the festival cleaners were already up, refreshing the compost toilets and picking up litter as I wandered around generating metta for the gathering for the days to come.
Paradoxically, the out-of-time quality of waking up with the sun at 5 a.m. for that solo expedition was the most connected I felt to all those gathered people that weekend.
While the last year-and-a-half of volunteering on organic farms had taught me plenty of practical skills to support my fellow growers, silently blessing their efforts that morning moment felt more necessary and potentially fruitful—not unlike making a cauldron of vegetable soup for our head grower earlier that week.
The heavens opened up not soon after, and it rained non-stop all day and into the night. I spent most of that time under cover listening to an emerging groundswell of ideas new and old . . . everything from seed-saving to maintaining food sovereignty to all the practical uses of hemp as a building material and textile, to initiatives matching newly arrived immigrants to the UK with available gardening space so that they could continue to grow their home country’s produce, to all the weird and wonderful ways to cultivate edible mushrooms to enrich our gut microbiomes, to new methods of preserving and pickling and fermenting from a woman who had unexpectedly found herself without a fridge during lockdown and had become creative by brewing a whole new career for herself.
The most unexpected plot twist, however, was yet to come.
Amid all those bittersweet reunions with vulnerable volunteers from previous placements, the most closed-book among them unexpectedly sat down with me on a hay bale to survey the festivities going on around us . . . and began to talk about writing. They confessed that they were keen to write their memoir that would tell the truth about their life, come what may. It took all my self-control not to jump to my feet and shout “hallelujah” and “praise be” and “can I get a witness?” in true tent-revival style.
Instead, as a former writing workshop facilitator, I gently offered to help nourish this surprise seed germinating with book suggestions and writing exercises and encouragement to feed and water and tend to the truth emerging from the compost of their life story.
And so, dear readers, in these turbulent times, please do all you can to feed and water and tend to whatever areas of your own lives currently feel undernourished or ready for the compost heap. You never know what new chapter generating metta for your own hunger gaps may well end up nourishing in others.
Or, to metta-morphose “The Power of Two” by the Indigo Girls, a song about camping and nourishing one another come what may:
Now the parking lot is empty
Everyone’s gone someplace
I pick you up and in the trunk I’ve packed
A cooler and a two-day suitcase
‘Cause there’s a place we like to drive
Way out in the country
Five miles out of the city limit we’re singing and your
Hand’s upon my knee
‘Cause we’re okay
Baby I’m here to stop your crying
Chase all the ghosts from your head
I’m stronger than the monster beneath your bed
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart
We’ll look at them together then we’ll take them apart
Adding up the total of a love that’s true
Multiply life by the power of metta
Farmer’s Footprint documentary series (Beginning Farmers)
How Body Farms and Human Composting Can Help Communities (Wired)
Vandana Shiva interview on seed saving and food sovereignty (YouTube)
ET finale voted most powerful cinematic moment (The Guardian)
Maranasati Meditation: How to Practice Mindfulness of Death (Positive Psychology)
Related features from BDG
Soothing the Fear of Death: Lessons from Nakula’s Mother
Dharma’s Garden – Nourishing the Local Community through Homesteading
Pause and Reflect: Humanity from Illness into Wellness
Touching the Earth: An Ecodharma Retreat
Intimacy, Humility, and Stillness: The Perfection of Wisdom