Last weekend I became one of those annoying neighbors. The ones I complain about endlessly. The ones who mow their lawns at 7 in the morning on a Saturday, setting the dogs into a bark-a-thon. The ones who use chainsaws and leaf blowers just outside my office window when I’m in a session. The ones who host barbecues and set off fireworks a full three weeks before or after the 4th.
I outdid them all last weekend.
I rented a tractor and spent two days digging up my backyard and putting it back together again. It was like a mix of a Daytona speedway and a fully functioning quarry over here. Total suburban nightmare!
My backyard has been a disaster for a long time now. After renovating the inside of the house at breakneck speed a few years ago, I hit the proverbial wall and lost steam at some point. I just stopped all forms of ambitious home improvement and settled into radical acceptance, making peace with the unfinishedness of it all out of sheer exhaustion and fund shortages.
I joked once that I could either spend the money to clean up the yard or buy some blinds for all the windows around the house and just pretend nothing out there exists. The joke was meant to be a Zen riddle of sorts - if a tree falls in an already trashed out backyard, does anybody care? - but it became a kind of truth by default.
The things we give no attention to fester instead of flourish. They fall apart and we don’t even notice because we’re not focused there. We have the blinds down. Out of sight out of mind.
The great septic system meltdown of 2022, which I wrote about several newsletters ago, forced me to get real about my severely neglected backyard. The metaphor finally completed itself. Neglect gave way to emergency. The kind you can no longer look away from. The kind you have to raise the blinds and confront. I’m sure this is a familiar scenario to many. We’ve all had reckoning moments in our adult lives, to one extent or another, where the complacency of denial gives way to immediate ACTION.
My whole backyard had been ravaged by the septic guys and the ultra dry, rainless weeks were turning the place into a dustbowl. It was so bad that the dogs were starting to look dusty every time they walked around the house to do their nightly biz, like they’d been through the desert on a horse with no name.
I had to do something. The time had come. I felt a rush of motivation and I rode its coattails all the way to the nursery to pick out new plantings. I knew what I wanted already but once I was there, by myself, wandering the aisles of trees and shrubs, my imagination really kicked in. I spent hours looking and admiring and visualizing. I stayed so long, lost in my head, that closing time came and the sprinkler system started up, pelting me with water and soaking my left side completely. I didn’t care. The task had begun to feel meaningful! I picked out my favorites and scheduled delivery.
“You’re gonna need top soil”, my very wise plant guru friend told me. “See if you can get it delivered to the house the same day as the trees.”
I drove to a different nursery. They could drop off 5 yards on Saturday morning. Perfect. I called my friend back to make sure he was still on board to come over and help.
“You should rent a machine too,” he said. “Things will go much faster. Get a backhoe. We can scoop and level.”
I called the local rental spot. It was Friday at 4p. They were just about to close. They said they could bring the Kubota by early Saturday morning and I could keep it till Monday morning. We would have two full days to rehab the yard.
At 7:30 in the morning on Saturday a trailer was unloading the tractor in the middle of my street, firing up the engine and then driving it onto my lawn and they mayhem had officially begun. This is how I surged, spectacularly, to the top of the Most Annoying Neighbor list.
But besides taking unintended revenge on my loud neighborhood, something else happened to me over the course of the two days. I had long, uninterrupted swaths of time putting my hands in the dirt. This is something I rarely make time for anymore. I walk the dogs every day in nature but with shoes on and in ways that feel way less intimate than planting.
I’m always at a desk, behind a computer screen, reading a book, writing something. My understanding of the earth as a deep, complex, powerful, alive thing has become largely intellectual. I think of her, I don’t squat barefoot for hours pulling weeds from her surface. I don’t find her dark soil trapped under my fingernails. I don’t dig her rocks out of the lawn and stack them against the edge of the fire pit in the backyard. She’s largely a concept in my life, not an experience.
I take the earth for granted but she is everything. She is the ultimate healer. Just pressing my feet and hands against her changes my frequency noticeably. I knew this so well as a child but forgot it. Last weekend was a chance to remember it.
We need real, messy, connected, visceral experiences. We need them now more than ever in our lives. So many times in sessions, when it comes to the abstract notion of healing, I’m asked: “What should I do?” But the thing is, healing is not just about doing. It’s about the quality of presence we bring to the activity. It’s about the shift from knowing about something intellectually to allowing it to sink in and reach you. To sit on the meditation cushion is one thing. To breathe in so deeply and exhale so deeply that you feel you’re discovering new terrain within the secret caverns of your lungs, your belly and your psyche is another.
Intimacy with other people can be very tricky for some of us. But intimacy with the Great Mother, our earth, is much more accessible and straightforward. The earth is holding us, bearing witness to us, keeping us alive day in and day out. When we struggle to find connection interpersonally, we can find it from/with our Source. It’s easy to forget this but so, so powerful to remember it.
From my newly planted corner of the world to yours friends - have a beautiful week!