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October 2021

Having passed my time almost wholly in cities, I may have been surprised by modes of life and appearances of nature that are familiar to men of wider survey and more varied conversation.

~Samuel Johnson [1]

Amy and I relocated to this farm in August 2020, after living in San Francisco for 30 years. A few weeks ago we observed the first anniversary of our move, and over the past month we've realized that we're experiencing aspects of life here for the second time. That sounds trite in the abstract, but the specific details are richly evocative: The long nights and chilly mornings that come with the turn toward Fall. The pregnant ewes, just beginning to show. The slow thinning of the big oak tree that shades the house from the rising sun.

In a few more weeks there will be frost in the pastures at dawn, and a few weeks after that the first lambs will arrive, sources of joy and anxiety as we watch them grow and fret over their progress. And a few weeks after that, finally, hopefully, the rains will come, bringing an end to this year's fire season. And the cycle will begin again: The grass will grow green and lush before withering in the Summer heat. The lambs will nearly outweigh their mothers by the time they're rounded up and taken to market. The ewes' fleeces will triple in volume before they're sheared again next Fall.

I still identify as a "resident alien" [2] out here in the country, but I'm beginning to feel more at home, more grounded. Some of that is simply a function of repetition, another turn on the wheel of life. As we enter our second year here, everything is more familiar, more manageable. I'm hopeful that I'll continue to grow more acclimated, but I'm reminded of a line from Seneca: "It takes the whole of life to learn how to live." [3] I know I can't rush the process, and I have to remain open to what's being asked of me.

There's a parallel theme in my coaching practice. Not all of my clients uprooted themselves and relocated during the pandemic--although a number of them did--but everyone's lives were radically transformed. Now they're settling into a "new normal"--ways of living and working that are notably different not only from pre-pandemic habits and routines, but also from the crisis mode of the past 20 months.

In our own various ways, my clients and I are "re-grounding" ourselves, finding ways to live and work sustainably under new conditions. Sometimes this involves adapting to a radically different environment, as in our case on the farm. More typically it involves distinguishing between A) those pre-pandemic activities that are meaningful and important and should be restored, and B) all the others that were merely by-products of a world in which in-person time was a commodity, and not a precious resource. [4]

Today I have a far deeper appreciation for the ways in which a closer connection with the natural world allows me to feel more grounded. And I'm keenly aware that our time here is finite, and at some point we'll have to leave--true for me and Amy on this farm, true for all of us in this existence--which motivates me to pay attention, to be more present and available to everything around me.

The other night we took Buster for his final walk, and we suddenly realized that the lane was full of snails. Some signal had summoned them from their hidden corners, and they were having a gastropod convention by moonlight. We stepped carefully among them and made our way down the lane. It was a useful reminder that I've only just begun to explore and understand the mysteries of this new life--to feel grounded here--but I am making progress.

Footnotes

[1] A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland (Samuel Johnson, 1773)

[2] April 2021 Newsletter

[3] On the Shortness of Life

[4] Four Buckets (On Co-Located Work)

1. From My Archives: How to Stay Grounded in Chaos

Very rarely do we experience a literal threat to our safety that requires an immediate physical response. But we often experience situations that we interpret as threats to our safety, and we speed up as a result. And that speed, that sense of urgency, in those situations is usually counterproductive.

So the impulse to hurry should often be interpreted as a signal to slow down. We can then train ourselves to interrogate our sense of urgency and ask, "Is that really useful here? Is it going to be helpful--or is it going to spur me to some counterproductive action?"

2. Recommended: The Practice of Groundedness

I've found the work of author and coach Brad Stulberg a tremendous resource in recent years. His first two books, Peak Performance and The Passion Paradox (both co-written with Steve Magness) are aimed at helping people achieve their potential while living well, and his latest effort explores similar territory from a new perspective. (Full disclosure: I consider Brad a friend, and he says some nice things about me in the book.)

"If multiple fields of scientific inquiry, the world's major wisdom traditions, and the practices of highly fulfilled peak performers all point toward the same truths, then they are probably worth paying attention to. In this instance, happiness, fulfillment, well-being, and sustainable performance arise when you concentrate on being present in the process of living instead of obsessing over outcomes, and above all when you're firmly grounded wherever you are." [page 20]

One Minute in Sonoma County
(The tiny white figure in center right is a horse and rider.)

3. One Minute of Calm

We need moments of calm now more than ever, and I regularly post short videos of the natural world, generally from Marin or Sonoma Counties. Visit OneMinute.co for more videos, or get them via RSS.
Enrico Pieranunzi, Marc Johnson and Joey Baron
"Ninfa Plebea" (The Nymph), by Ennio Morricone

4. Miscellany: "Ninfa Plebea"

Ninfa Plebea (The Nymph) is an obscure 1996 film by Lina Wertmuller that caught my attention for one reason: This haunting version of the title song, composed by the great Ennio Morricone, and performed by Enrico Pieranunzi, Marc Johnson and Joey Baron. In 2014 Pieranunzi's trio released a 2-CD set of Morricone recordings that's well worth a listen, but this song is the standout track. The version above is from a the trio's Live in Japan CD, recorded in 2007.

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