It needs a more refined perception to recognize throughout this stupendous wealth of varying shapes and forms the principle of stability. Yet this principle dominates. It dominates by means of an ever-recurring cycle . . . repeating itself silently and ceaselessly . . . This cycle is constituted of the successive and repeated processes of birth, growth, maturity, death and decay.
An eastern religion calls this cycle the Wheel of Life and no better name can be given to it. The revolutions of the Wheel never falter and are perfect. Death supersedes life and life rises again from what is dead and decayed.
- Sir Albert Howard, The Soil and Health (1945)
* * *
We need a more refined perception, too.
* * *
Wendell Berry is 80 years old. In the not distant future he will die: the body only lasts so long. I have, unknowingly, used his presence in the world as a sort of ballast to keep myself steady. Here was a poet of soil, a mad farmer, a man who wrote "in defense of precious things and in giving thanks for those precious things." If you've read him you know those precious things are the dead gone before him, his wife, his children and his friends and what ties them together is the land he farms.
His book, The Wheel, opens with the quote from Sir Albert Howard - the first Westerner to give voice to the need for conservancy of the land through organic agriculture. I have been steadied by this slim volume of poetry for over 30 years.
My gentle hill, I rest
beside you in the dark
in a place warmed by my body,
where by ardor, grace, work,
and loss, I belong.
That fucking slays me everytime.
But this isn't about my taste in poetry. It is about something Berry and Howard write about that at first glance has very little to do with unfucking a fucked life, but bear with me a minute.
* * *
Perhaps, at this late hour, it is already passe to recognize the stability Howard speaks of as it relates to the environment. We know, ad nauseum, all about rotting leaves and the great big wheel of life that spins and takes us all into its maw and shits out what comes next. We get that. We don't like it when it comes to the particular event of our turn to get plowed under, but we know it and either accept it or try to resist it for as long as possible. But know it we do.
What may be missing from our perception, the refinement required, is to see the same processes not only in the organics of having a body that will one day come to a full stop, but also in the spirit of having a soul, a consciousness, the fire in your belly, the ache in your heart: the very youness of you.
We easily attribute the cyclical processes of birth, growth, death and decay to the world around us, but hardly consider the possibility that as above, so below: we are, in ourselves, ever becoming, ever maturing and dying to what no longer sustains us. Think, are you the same today as you were ten years ago? Ten days ago? Have all of your current beliefs been there from the start or have they changed and evolved over time, dropping off entire hunks of understanding you once could not imagine doing without?
Here's the critical difference between you becoming you, between you unfucking your life and the organics of soil: your journey is not just one cycle, but an ever recurring, repeating cycle of opportunities to become what you are within the span of your one organic life. The natural world lives and dies and a new form rises up out of the physicalness of life. Your soul, your name, your spirit is not organic, is not made of clay and so can pass through these processes as many times as you need, as you can bear, as you dare.
Certain Christian sects speak of being born again in Christ. They are redeemed of their transgressions in the discovery of their ardent faith. Right on. But it generally stops there. The answer is in hand so no need to look further. But what if that is not you? What if the answers you find are somehow incomplete, that the faith you see in others somehow eludes you? What if certainty isn't part of you? I'd argue that comparing your life to any other is why you feel fucked and stuck and going nowhere. You look around you and you see others who proclaim their certainty in the god of their faith, the money in their pocket, the congressman they own and it baffles you, leaves you cold, hungry, lost. You try and it doesn't stick and the progress you've made reshaping your life slows to a crawl.
To borrow another term from farming, these periods of having nothing to hold onto, of faithlessness, of being fucked, are the fallow seasons of your soul. Nothing seems to be working, yet if you can still manage to put one foot in front of the other you do reach the end of it and your life takes hold again. The great error is believing that what is fallow is permanent. You will cycle through faith and fallow and emerge changed and you will change again. Your body will age and slow down. You will die: the body only lasts so long, but the spirit of your struggle will always be refreshed while you draw breath and if your spirit is large enough, brave enough to not be certain, to not compare itself to any other but to be glad of its own processes then the work of your days will be illuminated by it and that light will be left for others to find their way.
* * *
The opening out and out,
body yielding body:
through which the new
above its shadow
on the piling up
darkened broken old
husks of itself:
bud opening to flower
opening to fruit opening
to the sweet marrow
of the seed -
from what was, from
what could have been,
What is left
is what is.
- Wendell Berry, "The Broken Ground"