Welcome, dear readers, to another month of taking put out of the meditation cushion and into the world.
Last month's article by Metta Long Corridor, saw me sitting with a reality that I had already passed while waiting for a new reality to be born.
Rather poetically, the Dharma led me to a nearby organic livestock farm to help with the lambing - lambs being perhaps the ultimate symbol of innocence, rebirth and spring after a difficult few months. feeling lost in the winter woods.
On the first day we prepared for the month ahead by parking in a designated area in the stable yard with hedges, scattering a thick mat of dry straw, cleaning and filling the feeders with silage, scrubbing and filling the water troughs and preparing a small caravan for all those who work the night shift.
Traditionally, lambing in the UK begins on the first day of March. Sheep gestations last five months, so rams are released into the fields in October to ensure spring births. Each ram is 'raddle' - fitted with a harness and paint block - or simply has its chest painted a specific color so farmers can tell which ewes have mated with whom. A few months later, they call on the veterinarian to do ultrasounds and mark the backs of the ewes accordingly: no gestation, single birth, twins, triplets, and sometimes even quadruplets! The expectant mothers are then 'stabbed', with their tails and the area around their vulva clipped to avoid 'dags' (fleece clogged with poo), which can cause infection for the ewe or lamb later on.
Some farms leave their herds outside to fend for themselves, while others take the approach that the controlled environment of a farrowing pen increases the chances of survival because it is easier to spot when a mother or baby may need help.
And so, on the last day of February, we herded the pregnant ewes into the fields and into their new “baa-ternity” room to await the arrival of about 89 lambs. Chaos doesn't nearly describe the rush there, or the flurry of multicolored fleeces depending on the fathers and expected numbers.
Our hosts, mother and daughter, taught us the signs to look out for when a sheep is in labor: stop “cuddling” (chewing); paws or spins around the straw to make a nest (as a dog would do before taking a nap); a swollen vulva; and usually moving on to a less busy place.
The first births I witnessed came as a complete surprise to me, as the ewes tend to be quiet and, if all goes well, the lambs just slide in headfirst. Then their mother licks them clean, and they are already taking their first steps and hopefully a glass of colostrum (mother's first milk)! Where it can get dangerous, and why this particular farm chose to lock up its expectant mothers, is if a lamb gets stuck (usually due to poor positioning), if a lamb is born premature or stillborn , or if at first the mother does not understand what is happening or that the lamb she gave birth to is even hers.
One of the disadvantages of a lambing pen is that it is so narrow from a field that mothers and lambs can sometimes get confused. So once a ewe has given birth to all her lambs and they have had their first drink, they are moved to their own private paddock for about a week to ensure they only bond between them. A family is also spray painted with their birth number in the flock, and the lambs are fitted with rubber bands halfway up their tails (to anchor them to prevent infection) and around the boys' testicles to secure them. castrate. These slowly cut off the blood supply and usually go away within 10 days.
It was heartwarming to see how many neighbors and complete strangers of all ages stopped by daily to enjoy the springtime magic that was in progress. We did our best to explain the processes and give updates as we continued the endless rounds of feeding, silage filling, cleaning and straw.
I could fill this month's article (and maybe next month too!) with all the practical things I learned inside the lambing pen, but regular readers wonder probably when exactly put make an appearance in all this? And so I will continue with all that was birthing outside the lambing pen also in the run up to Mother's Day, which is celebrated on the third Sunday before Easter in the UK.
Although I am not a biological mother myself, I like to think that my put the practice of meditation is a form of universal mothering, beginning with caring for myself, my loved ones, anyone in my current orbit, and ultimately all sentient beings.
When we were alone, a regular visitor confided to me that she felt close to a nervous breakdown. I did my best to listen and learn what might help her. A few days later she came to thank me for telling her about mother sheep for the first time and the fear and confusion they often feel because they don't understand what is happening to them or what this little being who is presented to them (preferably presented in a towel so that the identifying odors do not get confused). Learning this had given her an unexpected compassion for her own mother, and she was calling her name for the first time in years.
A young mother and her eight-year-old daughter stopped by after school every day. Sensing the mother's exhaustion and her daughter's restlessness, I struck up a conversation about favorite books and bedtime stories, and suggested a few they might not know about. Not yet. The next day, both thanked me. . . the daughter for her new favorite audiobook and her mother for some quiet time!
And on a rare day off, I wandered down the alley to the nearest town, only to come across what looked like a car accident. I approached to see if anyone was injured or needed help, and recognized another regular visitor to the lambing pen behind the wheel who was clearly crying in shock as three cars drove past. queuing to pass. I jumped into the passenger seat and did what I could to get her back here and now so the cars could pass her, and chatted with her in a nearby parking lot until that I was satisfied that she was fit to drive. I saw her again a few days later, smiling this time, and she thanked me for stabilizing her that day.
Four other volunteers also came and went during this month of lambing. Each of them reminded me of myself at different stages of my life, and that organic farm volunteer trip that was approaching its first anniversary.
The first was to recover from long-term burnout while feeling her biological clock ticking and supporting her mother through radiation therapy for breast cancer. Later, she thanked me for really listening to her, as well as really triggering her too! Apparently my cuteness had pushed all her buttons and she promised to be nicer to herself in the future.
Another had done almost as many placements as I, while weaning herself off antidepressants and returning to her mother as an adult. She later thanked me for making her laugh with stories of my volunteer dramas, and even suggested that we have our own counseling service! Apparently the worst farm she had visited so far was expecting her to stay in a moldy trailer, and having me share some of my weird and wonderful experiences had helped her gain perspective and to contiue.
Another volunteer was just 16, volunteering for a week as part of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme. Although she had never worked on the farm before, it was a pleasure to work alongside her. And when she asked me over lunch if she was the youngest volunteer I had met last year, I said yes. . . as well as one of the best, to his surprise! Apparently, I was a good teacher, which warmed my heart, considering the fatigue and conflict and, frankly, the weariness I still felt about my previous internship.
And the last volunteer was also new to the program. It literally represented his first steps outside after years of agoraphobia. On the third day, he burst into tears in front of me, and I assured him that any tension he was feeling was not his own but the host family's own struggles and exhaustion after a month of 24 hour calls. / 24 and 7/7 to ewes and their lambs. Feeling too panicked to continue, he asked a friend to pick him up in the middle of the night! Apparently my kindness had shown him that there was no shame in not being a good candidate, and the following week he was going to try to stay in my preferred placement, which I described in Metta paves a way.
When the lambs were strong enough to be put on fresh pasture, we carried them by hand to the ground so that their mothers followed their scent in the field. Their wonder and joy at discovering a larger world beyond their feathers was pure joy to behold.
And so, dear readers, whatever sorrow or fear or doubt or sickness or worry or sorrow is currently keeping you in a pen, remember to do all you can to mother yourself with as much put that you can gather until the Dharma takes you to a new level of freedom.
Or for put-morph the bittersweet song "Mother" by Tori Amos:
go go go now
Out of the nest it's time
go go go now
Circus girl without a safety net
Here here here now don't cry
You raised your hand for the mission
Tuck that metta under your helmet
be a good soldier
First my left foot
Then my right behind the other