Every once in awhile I drive to the first Bedlam Farm, a bride waiting for me, to try and catch the sunrise coming over the valley in front of the house, my former front yard. I have always seen Bedlam Farm as a magical place waiting to free the best spirits of the lucky person who lives there. I am always chasing sunrises and sunsets, drawn hopelessly to the light, a prisoner of it. I love taking photos everywhere, but I think this may be my favorite spot, it is always waiting for me, opening itself up to me.
Meditation is another one of those things that I never did, but I do now. It is important to me, perhaps the most significant of the healing tools I have encountered, and one of the most effective at quieting the mind and seeing past the fear. I meditate at least once a day and usually twice, and yesterday, I went on an extraordinary meditation that I wish to share with you. A remarkable trip for me.
I meditate in the same chair in the living room. I turn off any devices, light an orange meditation candle I bought for that purpose. I turn off the lights, draw the curtain. Usually there is a dog with me, Red most often, lying at my feet, sometimes Lenore joins him. Both dogs have completely grasped the meaning of the bells on my Ipad Meditator app. When the first bell rings, they curl up and sleep and do not move until they hear the three bells signalling the end of the meditation. I sit up straight, hold some meditation beads I ordered online, close my eyes. When I hear the bell I begin counting my breaths. I breath in four four counts, hold my breath for seven, breathe out for eight. I do this for four or five minutes, and yesterday I set the timer for 45 minutes. It was in the late afternoon, in the time when work ends for me and it is not time for dinner. The chores are done, the animals fed, the dogs walked. Maria is in her studio.
Yesterday I fashioned my meditation this way: I think of the clutter of satellites in space and I see myself as moving quietly through my own clutter – my distracted head, my fear, anger, judgement and regret – and I felt myself floating, down and down through all of the junk and dirt and chaos and pain that troubles my fevered brain, down past the endless clutter, into the quiet, the dark, sailing down and down. And there I found my strength, my goodness, my worthiness. My creativity, my love, all of the good things in every human heart and every human soul, all of the gifts we are given before they are soiled and twisted and battered by life in the world.
And I felt the most extraordinary calm and quiet, it felt as if I were standing in my bare feet in the shallows of a crystalline pond that was perfectly still, the surface broken by an occasional frog or fish taking a breath. And then I was swimming underneath the surface of this pond, looking up at the light and color. And I soaked up my strength, took deep breaths to draw it in and I saw the person I was born as, the person I was born to be, meant to be, capable of being.
And I felt that these good thoughts and feelings were freed, liberated, drifting into me, as if they were made of mist, and sweet-swelling meadow air. And there I dwelled in that state for the longest time, feeling strong and seeing that I had only tapped into a fraction of the strength in me, there was so much more down there waiting to be freed. And then the three bells sounded and I opened my eyes and I felt so good about my place in the world. And I felt so strong, that this was the true me, the authentic me, and the fear just seemed to burn off and melt away.
Every meditation is different, no two are alike, and I am not so foolish or greedy as to look for this same thing again. But I am eager to see what else might be down there for me, past the clutter, into the deepest parts of the soul. I could never fathom how to get there before, and I have come to see that meditation is a window into me, a portal, a ticket to this mystical place. This trip will stay with me for a long time.
They say that donkeys got the crosses they all carry on their backs the day Jesus was crucified. His donkey, driven away by soldiers and the howling mob, kept returning, upset to see his beloved master dying on the cross. When Jesus was dead, the legend says, his donkey returned, and then left in sorrow when he saw his human dead. He passed under the shadow of the cross and donkey have carried the cross and the burdens of mankind ever since.
Donkeys have always seemed mystical to me, rich in history, rich in literature. Writers have been writing about donkeys for century, and no animal in the world has captured the human imagination more than these loyal and stubborn and loving creatures. Anyone who knows a donkey knows about donkey dreaming, donkeys taking time out – every day, several times a day – to be still, soak up the sun, and, it seems to many, including me, to dream. They stand still, gazing at the horizon, or at the ground, and the world slows down and calms.
You can almost feel them dreaming. What is the nature of their dreams? No human knows, but sometimes, when I stand or sit with the donkeys – I do this when I am upset or frightened or sad sometimes – they slide and drift over to me, they come near me to heal me, I think, and I feel their dreaming. They dream of history, maybe of the myth of the donkey and the cross, they dream of alfalfa and fresh grass stretching to the horizon, they see streams of cool, clear water, and shade trees to nestle under. They dream of the foibles of humans, I believe, passed along from mother to daughter, father to son. Loving humans, cruel humans. They wonder at this strange species they serve, so capable of love, so capable of cruelty. They dream of deserts and hills and crowded bazaars and dirt farms and of the little children every donkey loves to carry on his or her back.
They dream of the hills they love to climb, the gates they open, shelter in the sun and the wind. They dream of one another, and of the countless donkeys who have sacrificed themselves for the endless work of humans.
Another donkey myth says that all donkeys love children, as they see small people as pure and loving and uncorrupted by the greed and anger and cruelty of the species. Dreaming with donkeys is a spiritual experience, it lulls me and gives me peace and perspective. It heals me.
One month ago, I decided to accept contributions for the maintenance and upkeep of the blog, for the photographs posted here, for the time it takes to write regularly. I have also agreed to allow the first Bedlam Farm blog sponsor, Fromm Family Foods, to design and maintain a banner ad at the top of the Farm Journal Page. These are major steps for me as a writer, and for the blog. The genesis of the decision is the changing economics both of blogs and of publishing. In the age of digital publishing, more and more blogs are charging for subscriptions in the same way that magazines and newspapers once did. In many ways, blogs are the new magazines of our world, offering information, opinion, and hopefully ideas inspiration. I see my blog as a living memoir, a continuing book of my life. And just as people pay for books, I am asking people to consider supporting this blog. The difference is that it is a request, not a fee.
The backdrop of these decisions are interesting. People ask me all the time if I will be paid for the e-books they buy. The answer is yes, but in much smaller amounts than before. Books are thriving and more people than ever are reading, but e-books are much cheaper than paper books and so writer's incomes from traditional publishing have been declining sharply. Publishers love e-books because they cannot be returned and have low production costs and no shipping fees. For writers and bookstores, it's a different matter. Writers and bookstores have been challenged to change, but no one should think reading is in trouble. Reading is in the midst of a golden age of choice and low cost. And I welcome any publishing change that makes it so easy and inexpensive for people to buy books. That is nothing but good for readers.
The turn to subscriptions is not a lament or complaint. It is business, not drama. Before the recession and changes in publishing, I didn't have to worry about revenue sources. Now I do. So does everyone else. So this is not a plea for help. It is a change in the economics of writing – a reconsideration of what you pay for and what I earn. The world changes, and creative people, of all people, need to change also. So I am re-structuring my writing life. In addition to these other changes, I will be publishing a series of e-books this year and every year. The first of these, "Listening To Dogs," will be published in March. My next paper book, "Second Chance Dog," about Frieda and me and Maria, will be published in October by Random House.
I am, as many writers are, diversifying. Maintaining a farm and caring for animals is expensive – hay, vet bills, fences, feed. I want to keep the farm strong as well.
The blog, in which I invest a considerable amount of time and money, needs to support itself in order to be worthwhile, and also if it is to remain free of charge, which is another of my decisions. I believe that the blog will become a regular source of income and that people will contribute in a way that is regular and comfortable for them, and that supports the blog in a way that is hopefully of mutual benefit. I have received contributions from all over the country and the world in all amounts, and I am grateful for them. I am adding some new elements to the blog as well: book reviews, short stories on Sundays and "share" buttons. I am also adding a contribution link at the bottom of blog posts so people can contribute if they choose. I am not recommending amounts. I see contributions as affirmations for me, compensation for work. It is a very healthy and sound thing for me to be doing, and I gather from your messages, many of you feel the same way. So I am once again, as I will do occasionally, announcing and explaining contributions. This is something I have to get used to and be forthright about. I can't just mention them once, I need to be mentioning them continuously. I guess I've heard enough NPR pledge drives to know that.
Because the blog is read in different ways – subscriptions, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr – I need to spread the world in different ways.
My photographs are free, and I am not selling them. I hope they will be screensavers or printed out or used as backdrops on smart phones. They are my points of light sent out into the world. Contributions are the way to compensate me for them, as well as the rest of the blog. This, I believe, is the way the new writer will emerge – books, blogs, several sources of revenue related to his or her work. I have been foreseeing this for years and writing about, so now my time has come. I've often said that one day the blog will be as important as the books, and that day is coming. I have passed the 10,100 like mark on Facebook and thanks for that. In a way, the blog is being re-born.
My goal is to remain relevant as a writer. I do not romanticize the past or fear the future. It is my responsibility to change and evolve – that is the essence of creativity. Accepting contributions to the blog is an important step. Thanks again.
– (A reminder. Check out the Fromm Family Food site from time to time. There is nutritional information available for free and once in awhile, coupons. This is the food Frieda, Lenore and Red eat and they are thriving on it. Fromm is the oldest family-owned premium dog food company in America, another way of supporting individuality and buying local.)