Yesterday was such a beautiful day. I think I use the word beauty too much, but there is nothing like it, that I know, that expresses the open, unfolding, simple and clear grace of the word beautiful. To my mind there is something almost expansive about it. So the air was warm and dry, and I was at the farmer’s market and there weren’t as many people as usual. The usual sounds of music that is just a little too loud for the narrow street, and the yelling and loud chatting seemed to have been replaced with gentle murmurs and the slow dry sound of shoes on the asphault.
My simple job is to cut samples and stock the fruit boxes up front, and when it is crowded sell fruit, talk to customers, give advice and answer questions. It’s a job I am grateful for because it is so simple, and I have the opportunity to be very present with people. I say the same things every day many times “You know to store that in the fridge, right?” and “Asian pears ripen on the tree, so everything we have is ripe.”, and on etc. But I never tire of saying it because people listen attentively and learn something, I say it with love because my simple job is help people enjoy their fruit, and buy the best fruit for them. When people bring up something that has a bruise or a sunburn, we pull it out and select a different one for them. Everyone has a different like, a different quality they are looking for, and everything at the market seems to be a metaphor for life. I am very aware of this in all that I do there, which is why even when I’ve had two other “real” jobs I have always made time to work at the market and do this simple work. When everything else falls away, we share food, we share the outdoors, and when gone about consciously we share the casual banter of the mundane that is struck through with sparkling moments of beauty. Talk of the changing seasons. Desire for sweetness, tartness, refreshment, crunch, or tenderness. What your children like. A recipe someone tried. Bits and pieces of people’s lives as they return week after week, sometimes visiting us twice a week.
I’m going to be honest, sometimes I have a hard time. The farmer I work for doesn’t enjoy the markets, and has a hard time believing that anybody does. While nice and kind and helpful to certain customers, if he deems someone strange, or selfish, or whatever, he is not so good about disguising his disdain. I find myself at times fielding his energy and attempting to soften it by sympathizing out loud with the customers and explaining things kindly that he seems to expect them to know or understand. Arriving with an openness and readiness to listen and serve whatever people want, be it pears or comfort about a family or work situation, I haven’t figured out yet how to protect myself from occasional volleys that are aimed at me. When it is appropriate to be angry I let him know that he’s crossed a line with me, but it’s a little more difficult to know when it is my place to do that when he is chiding a customer. After all, it’s his business.
Yesterday the old Executive Director of the Rockridge Institute stopped by, who I used to work with. He’s now teaching law at Berkeley. He is a funny and charming man, and his wife is absolutely lovely. I love to see them at the market. He asks me how my 55 classes are going and tells Maria (his wife) that I’m taking a million classes. He’s always enjoyed alternating between making fun of me and offering respect for the intensity of my schedule. I mentioned my ministerial training program to him, and after they left the farmer I work for, let’s call him Farmer Bob for whoever doesn’t know him, seems offended that I haven’t told him I am in a ministerial program. When he laughed that I was taking singing, and scoffed that I was busy with graduate school, and told me how ridiculous he thought god was, I had simply not told him about this aspect of my life.
My spirituality is about my relationship with the divine. It’s not about getting others to have a relationship with god, it’s not about other people at all in fact. I see spiritual practice as private. To be real I do feel that it will necessarily pervade your actions and how you interface with the world, but to me it is not important to talk about it as such. In fact, one must be very careful when talking about spiritual practice to avoid the pitfall of doing it for recognition. I take this very seriously. For me, my healthy practice must contain parts that I do not share with others. This signifies the seriousness with which I take this relationship, and that is all I’m going to say about that.
So I didn’t share it Farmer Bob because it is sacred to me and I felt no need to share it with someone who doesn’t value it. But now that he knows, I am open about the program and he starts prodding me with questions. “Will you have a church?” No. “What religion?” No religion. “Where do you do this? Who are your teachers? What have you learned? Can you minister to me right now? I think you should start a ministry for troubled farmers.” Boy, I’ll say. Every time he says “minister” or “ministry” he says it with extra emphasis to show that this formal name makes him uncomfortable. So when he asks if I can minister to him right now I tell him “If I were to minister to you, we would need to be in a safe quiet space where we could converse without interruption. I would also need to know that you were serious about it, and I don’t get that feeling.”
And then a breakthrough of sorts. He has joined the Rotary Club recently and they have a four way test for determining if an action is correct;
Is it the Truth?
Is it Fair to all concerned?
Will it build Goodwill and Better Friendships?
Will it be Beneficial to all concerned?
Sitting down on the open side of the van he tells me “I’m having trouble with the four way test. I’m not building good will, I don’t know how to do that.” Ah-ha. Self-awareness….
Ensues is a conversation where I find my voice with him and tell him what I’ve noticed. I sense the strength of knowing in my voice as it arrives and his look changes to interest. We still have deep foundational differences in the way we see the world, he tells me he doesn’t believe in happiness, he tells me he doesn’t understand how one can not take things personally and be personable (what?), and he doesn’t believe in subjective truth (a sign saying, seriously, the best apple in the world, to which he challenges people “If you can find and bring me a better apple, I’ll give you a whole bushel”). But what began was a more open dialogue, and the crack is there… he recognizes that there is something not quite right about his interactions with the markets.
Don’t worry, I have no illusions about Farmer Bob suddenly becoming an enlightened soul or that these conversation will change him. Change happens, and individually it is truly rooted in the desire to change, the desire to grow, not simply the desire to have different relationship with the outside world. The desire to find your own part in your own suffering drives the questioning inward and makes it fruitful, when you desire deep change in yourself. No one can give that desire to anyone, it has to awaken inside. But as he sat and looked at me, occasionally interrupting, but not as much as usual, I thought how beautiful that he is at least asking this question. I’m glad I’m here today, on all fronts.