Winter solstice & dawning realizations

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As the Wheel of the Year turns the seasons and we move deeper into the darkest half of the year I want to pause for a moment to reflect on the journey that has brought me to where I am today. I’ve spent a lot of time this fall looking inward, thinking about who I am─the experiences that have shaped me as a person, and the choices I’ve made that brought me to this place in my life. Traditionally fall has been a time for honoring the dead, a time for self-reflection, for letting go and saying farewell. A time to release resentments and regrets.

Life is rough

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Traditionally the dark weeks leading up to the Winter Solstice are a time for reflection and letting go.

You know it’s been a rough one when your nine year old son looks at you with somber eyes and says to you “Mom…you’ve had a sad life….” These last few years have been especially filled with struggle─but that’s nothing new to me. Mine is a tale filled with pain and tragedy that I am not comfortable sharing online for the whole world to read. No─I’ll save that story for the memoir I’ll write someday, lol, and you’ll have to read the gory details from the pages of my book!

Maybe it’s just a survival tactic I’ve picked up along the way, but I’ve come to view times of trouble as “life lessons”. They’ve become opportunities─a time for self-reflection, exploration and personal growth.  And after each struggle I have emerged stronger, wiser, and perhaps (to my continuing detriment) even more stubborn. At this point I feel I have a pretty clear understanding of who I am, what I want, what I am willing to do to get it─and what I’m not. I’ve realized I’m a very principled person, but that my principles don’t always align with those of the mainstream public. I live largely by two guiding rules. The first: if it’s good for the Earth it’s good for me. and the second: live a full and happy life.

Who am I?

samantha-burns

“If it’s good for the Earth, it’s good for me.”

As a child growing up in Maine I was the proverbial tomboy; I ran through the woods, caught frogs and turtles in the ponds, turned over rotting logs looking for salamanders, played in the dirt with my brother and went fishing with my father. Over the years I have spent a lot of time wandering through the fields and woods, seeking the comforting solace of nature. Nature has healed my spirit, allowed me to feel accepted, loved, and worthy of being loved. I have a connection with nature; it’s only natural that I should want to protect something I care about so deeply.

Becoming an environmentalist, a farmer, beekeeper and advocate was the easy part. Learning to live a full and happy life─that one has been harder to realize. I had to first figure out that the key was to be true to myself─I mean the me that I am deep inside, the one who wants to hide for fear no one will like who and what I am. To do that I first had to figure out exactly who I was. That’s probably easier for some people to figure out, but for me there were a lot of barriers to overcome in order to do so. By the time I began to comprehend who I was and what I wanted, life had already swept me away far down the wrong road.

I am living proof of how a grisly childhood can lead an inexperienced young adult to make poor choices that can affect them for the rest of their life. A testament to how behaviors ingrained in us as children become part of who we are and shape who we become. That being said, I also believe the person we become is dependent upon the individual’s strength of character, their strength of will, and their ability to accept that turbid past, to learn and grow from those ordeals to become the person they are meant to be.

My runaway life

All of this has become clear to me over the last few years as I’ve worked towards living a life true to who I am. It wasn’t easy coming to terms with the fact that I just wasn’t happy in my marriage and that no amount of volunteer work, advocacy, or self-improvement was going to fix what was wrong in my life. Divorce is quite at odds with the lifestyle I lead in farming and I agonized for years over what I knew in my heart needed to be done. Before making the leap I even researched it─looking for guidance online from divorced farmers. Turns out it’s a pretty uncommon occurrence in the ag-industry. It’s incredibly difficult to separate marital assets when farming is involved. And if you think about it, “family” is synonymous with farming. Generally speaking, farmers just don’t get divorced.

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I looked after Dad for 5 years in an increasing capacity before he died; I didn’t realize til he was gone how close we’d come to be.

It wasn’t until my father died that I finally found the strength to reign in the runaway horse and wagon that my life had become. Changing the direction of your life after 17 years down the wrong road is no easy feat; it took everything I had to wrench that wagon off the road I was on. Some critics asked why I couldn’t have made the leap before my husband and I had taken a mortgage against the parcel of land that his parents had gifted us. Sadly, sometimes those life-altering realizations come to you belatedly, and for me it took losing my father to find the courage to make the changes in my life that my soul so desperately craved. No one regrets all those years of turmoil more than I; I will forever live with the knowledge that I hurt a number of people because I was not strong enough to take control of my runaway life.

I’m sure there are a great many people who believe I should have soldiered on, accepting those choices I made early in life, suffering through life for the sake of my children. I prefer not to live my life that way however, and I would not want my children to grow up to live their life that way either. I am a deeply principled person who regards a full and happy life as the second-most important guiding principle─I could not ignore the fact that for the entirety of my adult life I had not been happy in my marriage. And because I believe that any one person has the power to make changes in their lives no matter how big or small, I endured the uncertainty that followed─wading through the darkness in search of new light and a life that might make my heart sing and my soul soar.

Vulnerability, shame, connection and worthiness

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My first tattoo! Forest spirits from Hiyao Miyazaki’s animes; stories of man’s connection to nature which resonates with me personally.

So anyway─in the weeks leading up to and following our “Great Farm Move” I was pretty low and spent quite a lot of time thinking about the choices I’ve made. I thought about these principles that are important to me, that I want to live my life by, and what I want out of life. I spent some time indulging myself, doing some self-care: I started watching a lot of inspirational TED talks and I began to pick myself back up again. I went to see Young Frankenstein the musical at the Waterville Opera House with a colleague from Johnny’s, spent an afternoon shopping at local thrift stores with my sister, and just recently got my first tattoo. In another couple of weeks my sister and I will be going back to the Waterville Opera House to see the Nutcracker in honor of my late father, who had longed for years to take his girls to see that seasonal ballet, but never got the chance to do so.

In the midst of all this I came across Brené Brown’s TED talk on YouTube in which she talks about vulnerability and shame, two emotions that I am acutely familiar with. She says shame is the fear of disconnection. We all want to feel connected in life: connected to our families, to our co-workers, and connected within our community. I want to feel connected to the Earth and nature; that’s why I’m a farmer. Connection gives purpose and meaning to our lives.

Stay with me here; it all circles back around…

Brené says shame and vulnerability prevent the feeling of connection that we all crave, and no one wants to feel grief and disappointment, ashamed or vulnerable, anxious and unworthy─so we numb those difficult feelings. The problem is that you can’t selectively numb emotion; when we numb fear and anxiety, we also numb joy and gratitude and happiness. And then we find ourselves miserable and feeling vulnerable, so we numb.

According to Brené Brown we are the most in-debt, overweight, addicted and medicated society in U.S. history. We don’t want to feel the hard feelings so we numb them with alcohol, with prescription medications, food or whatever it is that comforts us and helps us not to feel vulnerable about who we are and our place in the world. We attempt to perfect ourselves, our children, our homes and our lives─we don’t want anything to be wrong or out of place so that no one can find fault in us because we want to maintain those connections which are so crucial to our existence. And Brené says we also pretend: we pretend to be like everybody else, or we pretend that we agree with the general consensus─we do what we have to do to fit in so that we can feel accepted.

In all of her research Brené found that there were two types of people: those who have a strong sense of worthiness and belonging and those who struggle with it, who are always wondering if they’re good enough (I would belong to this later group). She wanted to know what the first group had that the people in the second group did not, so Brené focused on just the people who possessed that sense of worthiness, calling them “the Wholehearted” and looked at all of the data she had collected from those kinds of people through her work as a researcher. She found that Wholehearted people all have one thing in common: they have courage.

Note: Brené points out that there’s a difference between “bravery” and “courage”, and that the word courage is derived from the Latin word “curr”, which means “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”

Embracing imperfection

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Family fun photo!

These Wholehearted people simply have the courage to be who they really are─imperfections and all. These people embraced vulnerability. They live with the belief that what makes you vulnerable also makes you beautiful. The Wholehearted experience a deeper connection with those in their lives and with the world around them as a result of authenticity. And that is inspiring to me.

I lost count of how many YouTube videos I watched of Brené, fascinated with this concept of embracing our imperfections and living a courageous life of authenticity. I even bought 2 of Brené ‘s books: The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly. No one likes to admit that they’re vulnerable; that we have fears and anxieties─that we struggle. But Brené Brown has studied vulnerability and shame over the course of her career, and she talks about letting go of who you think you should be in order to live a wholehearted life.

I know it sounds cliche, but sometimes in life, when you hear something at the precise moment in time when you need to hear it most─when you’re ready to hear it─something shifts inside you. Suddenly it all makes sense. I had been fighting to live my life with authenticity, but I didn’t know that’s what I was fighting for.

A friend of mine told me not too long ago that she thought I was courageous for persevering in the face of the obstacles and challenges that have made up my journey thus far as a farmer. I was embarrassed at the time; I scoffed and shrugged it off─knowing that inside I’m perpetually scared that I am not enough, and forever afraid that I really don’t belong.

But she was right. It may be a struggle, but I am living my life with courage and authenticity. I just didn’t realize it until I listened to Brene Brown’s TED talk.

And to further enforce the concept there was this video. Brené calls this talk her “Sweaty Creatives” talk. You don’t have to watch this video, I can’t force you─but I promise you’ll be inspired if you do.

There will always be critics

She quotes a speech that Theodore Roosevelt gave during the early 1900s which has since come to be known as “the Man in the Arena” speech:

It’s not the critic who counts, it’s not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done it better. The credit belongs to the person whose actually in the arena, whose face is marred with blood and sweat and dust. Who at best, in the end, knows the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst─if he fails─he fails daring greatly.”

We have no control over who is in “the Arena”. But if courage (telling our story with authenticity) is a value we hold─we have to show up and be seen. We have to look those critics in the eye and say, “I see you, I hear you, but I’m going to do this anyway.” Because in the end, it’s not about winning or losing; it’s about living a Wholehearted life, true to ourselves.

Brené goes on to say that “if you’re not also standing in the arena getting your ass kicked, then I’m not interested in your feedback.” And that concept has been hugely freeing for me. I’ve long known that not everybody puts themselves out there like I do. Many people are happy enough to coast through life in their own little bubbles, never really doing much of anything, never connecting with the people around them, living solely to pay the bills─just another cog in the wheel of the machine that makes up our mainstream society. Maybe they feel it’s safer that way. I’ve encountered many people who would dictate or pass judgement from their comfy seat on the living room couch with the tv blaring before them. Well I’m sorry, but unless you’re out there in the field sweating in the hot sun, sore and exhausted but still working to give it your all─I’m just not interested in your feedback.

Again, this was something that I “knew” somewhere deep inside, but felt guilty for and struggled to recognize. Brené’s talks really brought it home for me.

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Runamuk set up at the Somerset Abbey’s Winter Market in Madison, Maine.

Before I learned about vulnerability and the Wholehearted I was forever at war with myself, I knew in order to be happy I needed to live a life true to who I am─but I always felt guilty for doing so. One part of me felt I didn’t have the right to live a happy life. I didn’t feel I was worthy of love, or even friendship. And I certainly didn’t feel I belonged. Who am I to teach anybody anything, let alone about bees? Who am I to claim to be some environmental activist? Why do I have to write about everything? take photos of everything? This is the part of me who says: “you’re not a farmer”, “you’re not a writer”, and “you’re certainly not doing anything new” or “you’re not qualified”. All this while another part of me says, “Yes I am.” and “Yes I can.”

Well I’m still perpetually at war with myself; fighting with the many different sides of my own self. But Brené Brown has validated what I had known all along: that it’s ok to be imperfect. That having the courage to live authentically is crucial to feeling connected, and that if courage is a value we hold─there are going to be consequences.

Yes, I have fallen a few times along my journey: my divorce and consequent loss of land to farm on, the death of all my hives in the harsh winter of 2014-15, and then losing Jim’s farm… If you’re putting yourself out there, trying to live a full and happy life that is true to yourself, trying to tell your story with courage and integrity─sometimes you’re going to fail. Sometimes you’re going to get your ass kicked in an outright knock-down, drag-out brawl; you’ll be bruised and bleeding and crying for your mommy…but you’ll pick yourself up, limp away to lick your wounds…and you’ll try again another day.

The winter solstice and new beginnings

I think it’s significant that these dawning realizations have come to me as the darkness has gathered this fall. This is a time of year to release old thought patterns, fears, relationships, situations and things that no longer serve you. It’s incredibly freeing to unburden myself of those things that have weighed me down in the past.

At long last my journey of hardship and heartache has brought me to this place where I am performing the work that satisfies my soul; I am surrounded by people I have connected with as a result of that work and because I choose to live this authentic life. I have made so many wonderful and caring friends in the community as a result of volunteering my time and skills to teach others about bees, through serving the community of Madison-Anson as manager of its farmers’ market, and through my work at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I have found that I am not alone in my struggles, and that sharing your journey with those around you leads to a richer and more fulfilling life. I am truly grateful to have each and every one of these people in my life. They have touched my heart and brought a deeper meaning to my existence.

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My youngest, now nearly 10.

As the Wheel of the Year turns to the Winter Solstice and we look forward the rebirth of light to the Earth, I’m turning my attention to the coming year. I’m excited for this new beginning. Runamuk and I may have floundered, yet in spite of it all my kids, the farm and my apiary are still growing. I have a new and dedicated partner in life and in business; Runamuk currently has 15 beehives, 37 egg-laying chickens, 4 meat-rabbits, 3 lazy farm-cats, 1 Murphy-dawg, and 40-something acres to work with. There are exciting opportunities on the horizon and you can be sure I will continue to put myself out there, telling my story with honesty and courage.

Happy Winter Solstice from all of us at Runamuk!

Thanks for following along with my farming journey! Stay tuned for more stories, articles, and misadventures!

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