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Starting the Lawn Mower

When spring comes, it always seems like the list of projects on the homestead go from zero to 100 overnight. There is so much work that needs to be done, and most of it is weather-dependent.

Garden boxes can be built, but they can’t be placed in the garden until the winter snows melt. Minor repairs can be made to animal enclosures in all types of weather, but they can’t be completely rebuilt until the weather is nice enough for them to be less dependent on the shelters.  And there are times when you don’t know things are broken because you haven’t used them all winter!

Such was the case this past week when I tried to start my riding mower. The endless rains that we’ve received over the past few weeks have caused the grass to go from near dead to knee-high in a short amount of time. 

I was looking forward to riding my mower around the lawn to trim it down to size, but I experienced a shock when I turned the key to start my mower and nothing happened. The lights did not come on and the engine did not turn over. There were just a few pitiful clicks, followed by silence.  

Needless to say, this put me out of sorts. Riding mowers aren’t cheap, and I dreaded the thought of having to buy a new one. Moreover, my mower is only a few years old. It did not make sense that it would give up the proverbial ghost after such a short time.

As I often do, I turned to the internet for guidance. I learned that it’s not uncommon for lawn mower batteries to die over the winter. As they get older, it becomes more difficult for them to hold a charge, and the problem is exacerbated by cold temperatures.

What I experienced was a common problem with a simple solution. I just needed to charge the battery. And if that did not work, I would have to replace it with a new one.

So I brought the jumper cables out of the trunk of my car and connected my lawn mower battery to my car battery in order to charge the latter. The process was made more arduous by the fact that the lawn mower’s battery is under the seat, and the lawn mower won’t start unless the seat is down and someone is sitting on it. This is a safety feature put in place so that the mower’s engine will turn off if someone falls out of the seat while cutting the grass. As a result, I had to charge the battery for several minutes before I could test to see if the process was working.

While it was charging, I kept myself busy with other tasks around the homestead. I continued working to frame out the greenhouse that I am building. I fed the animals and I watered the garden. I did my best to keep my mind focused on the present moment as opposed to letting it dwell on worst-case scenarios.

Eventually, I went back to the garage, unhooked the charging cables, and tried to start the mower. The first attempt met with minor success.  Then the engine revved but it didn’t turn over.  So I tried again, and I received the same result. Now, I was growing concerned that in addition to the battery there might be other things on the lawn mower that needed to be fixed.

But I took a deep breath and turned the key to the mower one more time. On my third attempt, the engine turned over without issue, and the mower was running like new.

I find that returning to spiritual practice can be similar to the experience I had with my lawn mower. There are countless reasons why we may press “pause” on our spiritual journey—not chanting, meditating, or studying sutras as the Buddha instructed. Perhaps there are changes in our work schedule, so we can’t visit the temple as often as we would like. Maybe we finish reading a sutra, and we become distracted in our search for another, or maybe we just need a break. Whatever the reason for our hiatus, it can be challenging to return to the cushion. We may struggle to fall back into old routines and it may feel like nothing is happening as we work to get back into the groove.

In these moments, it can be useful to think of the work we’re doing as charging our spiritual batteries in the same way that I had to charge my lawn mower battery after a long winter.

It’s not fun or sexy work, and, frankly, it can be frustrating at times. But if we are persistent, our spiritual motors will rev with renewed vigor and we’ll be able to mow down the grass of our defilements.

Namu Amida Butsu

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