Never thought I would write that as an essay title.
Originally I wrote “How to feel rich”. But I recognize now, I don’t just “feel” rich, I am rich.
I can already feel some eye-rolling/grumbling/discomfort arising at these statements. Trust me, these words make me want to shuffle sideways and out of the room. But stick with me, this will take some unraveling.
We're stuck in a strange, ongoing cultural phenomena of simultaneously declaring our disgust in richness and opulence and yet, unable to tear ourselves our envious selves away from seeing and wanting more—sometimes, without knowing we are doing it.
At the beginning of the season, a friend told me about her experiment of declaring to herself “I am rich!”—an effort to remind herself of all she already had. It challenged me, to look closely at my life, at what I had and what I didn’t.
Its a challenge to acknowledge privilege: the things that are given and not achieved. Situated in a cultural of pioneers, mavericks, and puritans, there is desire amongst North Americans to attribute hard work, pluck and the favouritism of fate (god?) to our achievements. But through plenty of reading and self reflection, I’ve come to see how privilege is like a car driving a runner for 9km of a 10 km race. The finish line might be crossed by your own two feet, but there’s kinda no denying the lift you got the majority of the way. Who gets the lift and when (if at all) depends on the myriad of factors of race, gender, class, education etc.
So what do you do when you realize that you have gotten a ride? I think for many, denial and the anger that comes with it are the first responses because they feel that it diminishes the work that has been done. Work they are proud of. But I think our current socio-political climate shows what comes of that denial: precarious corrosion the undermines our relationships, rights, and democracy itself.
What people don’t often dive deeper into is shame and fear that underlies the corrosion because it causes us to question our very selves.
I know this because I have struggled with these feelings for much of my life, but only recently am beginning to find ways to deal with it.
For me, it manifested less in anger and more in shame. Blaming the ol’ catholic in me, it drove me to at times unhealthy amounts of work and self sacrifice. Peace was always fleeting, driven away by feelings that I should be doing more, striving to be better. Somehow this endless treadmill would somehow make up for everything I had and didn’t earn. But it was like filling a deep well with single glasses of water, impossible and exhausting.
So for a long time I oscillated between ignoring the wealth I had and struggling with the shame of it.
This year I began a simple meditation routine. One thing I learned from sitting for a few moments a day is the more you resist painful thoughts and feelings or try to ignore them, the stronger they and your suffering becomes.
So I sat with my privileges. I catalogued the richness of my life. Overtime it became less uncomfortable. And I came to this conclusion:
I have so, so much.
Myself and my partner have income enough to keep us comfortable and safe. We eat good food. We travel. We can participate in culture and entertainment. We have savings.
We live in a country that is peaceful and democratic. I live in a complicated and engaging city near protected, beautiful places that are open and safe for me to explore.
I have family and friends that I love and love me, that support and challenge me.
And I have career that provides income, intellectual and physical stimulation, and beauty.
In examining the obvious privileges, I began to appreciate the subtle ones I hadn’t fully seen.
I write these things and think of the exceptions, the “buts”, “albeit”, “howevers”. I know these and acknowledge their truths. But these are not statements of what I lack, but a catalogue of what I have. I want to focus a moment on the last: my career as a farmer.
Last week a videographer came to the farm to interview me briefly for a blog. I am not used to be filmed and at first I felt all squinty awkwardness. But talking about the work, the hardworking women who work with me, and the customers who make it all possible, I found myself on the edge on an ocean of emotion:
I spoke about the greatest gifts of my work: that every day, I am outside. I get the sun on my face and the rain. I watch the birds fly in in the spring and leave us once more in the fall. I discover the insects, hidden and secret in their own world. I know the different smells of the changing seasons. I see the sunsets and the storms.
Everyday I am challenged, in my body and my mind. How do I use my body, my greatest tool, safely and effectively and how do I teach others to do the same? How do I decide what to do when a pest arrives, a storm devastates or the fields all flush full of blooms? How do I motivate, teach, observe and care for those who work with me? What are the questions I have and how do I answer them?
I bring ephemeral beauty and life to others. I hear their flower stories. I get to know their lives. I connect people together, through flowers. I am a conduit for memories—new and old.
How do we diffuse the shame, fear, anger and denial of privilege? How do we transform it into a acknowledgement of the riches we have and begin to see the world again as a place of plenty, not of scarcity? I believe the answer statements in gratitude or thanksgiving. We must see all that we have, state it for our own ears and hearts, and say a thanks for it all. By knowing what we have, we can see more clearly what other beings do not, and try to use our gifts to make others lives richer. Gratitude becomes the equalizer.
Thanksgiving is not a once a year endeavour, but a daily prayer. At first I conceived of writing this on Canadian Thanksgiving and I am glad I did not. It is suited to this ordinary Sunday, because it should be a commonplace, everyday thing. It is a cyclical act, like farming and the seasons.
Remember, acknowledge, give thanks, take action. Repeat.