I am in Florence, Massachusetts, a small town once home to a silk mill, named after the Italian city. As an experiment in rural living, I’m renting the lower part of a secluded home surrounded by woods, with no other residence in sight. The mailbox is a five minute walk down a narrow, winding driveway. Many mornings I walk barefoot across a damp, cool lawn to awaken my senses, or dip into the trees for a “forest bath”, or to deposit compost in a pile under some pine trees. During daylight, dragonflies dance and dive in the air. Hawks soar overhead. At night an insect chorus trills unrelentingly at a surprisingly loud volume, punctuated by the occasional hooting owl or howling coyote. Every so often a sheep bleats from a small neighboring farm. The immersion in nature soothes me.
My mind wants to be elsewhere. My mind doesn’t think of me as a country dweller but as someone who belongs in an urban environment, with diverse shops, restaurants, venues and people. When my mind quickly assesses a place, person or circumstance and compares it to an image of how it believes things are “supposed” to be, and reality doesn’t resemble the image, I try (with spiritual practice) to heal my particular mind-body disconnect so that more of me can BE. HERE. NOW.
My mind’s rapid fire assessment can be seen as a survival reflex, distinguishing friend from foe. As a visually oriented and highly sensitive person, I am naturally attracted to, and uplifted by, beauty, care and order. A well-organized or thoughtfully designed environment signals to my cells that it’s OK to relax. Settings that are unkempt, dreary, crowded or noisy can quickly sap my energy. Being able to discern is critical for my well-being. Yet, rejecting places or people based on appearance alone can limit possibility. Contrary to the stunning images populating social media (which I have been avoiding for several months), not everyone or everything that looks amazing actually is wonderful. Treasures can be found in ordinary places and within unassuming people. The visionary activist astrologer, Caroline Casey, whose joyfully trickster-ish radio broadcasts have kept my spirits afloat during dark moments, reminds listeners that to “respect” means to look again (and again and again) until a person finds something to value or cherish in a place, situation or another human, rather than allowing the mind to dismiss it.
In the last few weeks, I’d driven by a small farmer’s market in the center of this small town while heading to a swimming pool. Often the market had begun to close by the time I’d finished my workout. From the road, it looked more scraggly and scruffy than scrumptious, with just a few vendors’ tents scattered on a lawn and not too many customers. My mind wanted to reject it out of hand. Still, one day I decided to check it out just before it closed, simply to experiment with not letting its looks deter me. I reminded myself that if I were in another country, which is where my mind insists I belong, I’d feel excited to see what locals were selling and I’d happily pull over.
Could I find that curiosity in this situation, or had I left it in the seat pocket of an airplane?
During my pit stop I bought purple and red potatoes, a palm-sized yellow and red heirloom tomato and a bag of Macoun apples, my absolute favorite. I paused at the tent of a man selling homemade non-dairy gelato from a cooler. He’d sold most of his inventory and, at that point, I’d run out of cash. He gave me a sample of the fig flavor. Laced with balsamic vinegar, it thrilled my tastebuds without being too sweet. I decided to return the following week.
I gave myself more time for the second visit. I scooped up some gelato and chatted with the seller, an older gentleman wearing a faded t-shirt and baseball cap, about his goodies, which he only sells at farmers markets. I decided to “look again” at all the vendors, regardless of my first impressions. At one modest stall with a sparse display, attended by three generations of women, I discovered that this family sold four kinds of garlic, labeled by type and clove size. Curious about the flavor differences, I bought Spanish and Ukrainian varieties, carefully marked on their outer skins with an “S” and a “U”, respectively. Although I purchase a lot of garlic, I hadn’t seen either type in a grocery store or at more charming markets, where I would “expect” to see such foodie varieties. Across the way I stopped at a tent where a woman sold her friend’s grass-fed beefalo, which I learned is 3/8 bison, 5/8 domestic bovine. She explained that beefalo has more protein but less fat and cholesterol than beef and also requires less space for raising. While I rarely eat red meat, I was intrigued enough about this American breed to buy some short ribs.
Curiosity sounds simple enough. Children are endlessly curious yet, for many adults, myself included, sustaining curiosity doesn’t always come naturally. Curiosity can be difficult to access if the mind is in lockdown or burdened with supporting a narrative of how things “should” be rather than how they actually are. Curiosity can be out of reach if a person is rushing or experiencing stress. While I am looking forward to sampling the flavors of beefalo and the European garlic, the food is simply the outcome of being present. The bigger invitation is to free my mind of expectations and judgments, especially those I have of myself, so I can live more of my life in curiosity. It’s a simple recipe that seems almost impossible to follow.
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