costs and benefits
build the foundation first
I have a section in one of my deep freezers that holds our most precious treasures. It’s off limits to all but the farmers who earned them. I pulled out a frozen beef brisket from there the other day to start the saga that is making corned beef. It was no ordinary beef brisket. It was the golden, fattened brisket from Henry, a four year old Jersey steer whom we harvested in 2020. It was a brisket abundant in glowing, yellowed fat and deep maroon flesh, both indicative of his well muscled, well used, long lived body. It got me thinking, “Where could I every buy something like this?” The truth is, nowhere. I couldn’t buy that meat anywhere at all. The cost is just too high on so many different fronts. It’s simply not available. That’s what happens on a system built around commerce. Cost is king. But then, what is “cost” and is it the most useful of measures outside of that system, in our own, private lives?
Over the years, my husband, Troy, and I have developed and honed a decision making framework that actually fortifies our marriage instead of placing wedges in it. Why we are not taught these things, real life lessons, when we are young or early in our marriages, I do not know, but we aren’t. We’re suddenly two instead of one and we’re just supposed to figure it out or get divorced, the end.
For us our paltry toolbox of decision making tools involved pro/con lists and a meagre cost/benefit analysis. Our pro/con list was basically a good/bad list, no room for nuance, boil it down to the facts. The cost/benefit analysis was usually centred around dollars. Neither felt very useful and both often led to fragmentation between us. He, of the male persuasion, has a more analytical brain more suited to such lists. I, of the womanhood clan, consider other things just as, actually more, important and worthy of discussion. We would often leave these challenge sessions frustrated, feeling unheard and misunderstood. No closer to healthy resolution than when we started.
In the early part of our farming lives, we took a course that had us write a mission statement that involved us, our family, and all that we wanted for our lives, including our farm. We learned that the longevity and health of our farm necessitated that it fit into the clearly defined, agreed upon priorities and values we held most dear in our lives lest we be sucked into the abyss of farming-as-master. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about farming or a small business or a career or a goal. To have a life mission statement, as a couple if you’re a couple, or as an individual if that fits, that outlines the profound and the precious, affords you a measurable touchstone when you’re deep in the fray.
It was a powerful exercise for us - to actually sit down and write out a declaration of what was most dear and how we would live to honour those things as a couple was the beginning of an energetic evolution in our lives. We had clarity and deeper meaning. To get to the end of our lives having lived as we intentionally set out to means that we have succeeded irregardless of circumstance. And because the things we hold most precious are not material or goal oriented, but action oriented, demanding our care and awareness daily, it doesn’t matter when we die. There’s no carrot to chase. We act from these tenets as a matter of course and so, we are in alignment.
The objective of marriage is to move from a singularity of purpose to a dual singularity of purpose. Get my meaning? We are not two individuals working side by side, we are enmeshed, interconnected beings on a mission. Love, yes, but purpose and meaning, too. Because honestly, wafting about on feelings of love is a doomed proposition. Feelings are nonsensical, fleeting things that, left untended, can wreak havoc in our lives. There has to be more. There has to be conjecture and self awareness. There has to be the willingness to sacrifice and hold true to your creed. Mostly, that sacrifice shows up in the form of ego. But from the actionable, consistent practice of living according to the pact you have made, not just writing out the lifeless words, comes a deeper, profound connection of love and trust.
Our decided upon values included our relationship. Me and him, above all else. Yes, our family of course, but me and him first, above all else. I am making that distinction for a reason. Those with small children and outside demands often put their marriage at the bottom of their priorities. It will wither there. From that agreed upon foundation of us first we branched out to the other parts of our lives. What did a well lived life look like for us? From there, having done the work to excavate and hone our vision for ourselves and our lives, we were able to make decisions in a more holistic and honest way. More peace and positive outcomes came into our wold. We grew closer. Our clarity around what we wanted in our lives has helped us to easily make decisions that, had we just used money as our decision making tool, would have seen us going in the opposite direction of where we wanted.
I shall endeavour to illustrate. On our first farm, we sold organic grass fed beef, pastured organic pork, organic birds and eggs, and milk cow loveliness (never milk because that is super duper illegal where we live). We, at the time, also had a massive garden, we were building infrastructure like maniacal beavers, we cut our own hay twice a season, and we were taking part in this little side gig known as parenting young kids. Easy peasy! We had somewhere around 40 head of cattle that had to be managed and rotationally grazed, moving them daily. In order to legally sell those animals, we had to load them on a trailer and bring them to an abattoir for butchering. The profits were just enough to make it possible to continue. But the costs we were paying, the real costs which were the incongruities with our goals and values, said otherwise. Something had to give and it wasn’t going to be us. Not an option.
We knew we loved being on the land, raising and growing our own food. Would it be possible, economically, to just scale right down and do it for ourselves? What we did, was poke our noses over the mayhem and started taking a good hard look around. We dusted off our declaration compared the reality of where we were with what we had agreed a good life would be. That was a pretty scary point in our relationship. It’s hard to sit across from the love of your life, look him in the eyes and ask, “Are we going to make it?” and hear the words, “I don’t know”. If that doesn’t set off sirens in your every atom, you might be with the wrong person. That honesty, combined with the quality of life and love we agreed to hold above all else, was the impetus for radical changes in our lives.
It’s so easy to get stuck in toxic patterns and relationships. As awful as those places can be, they’re still familiar and people, as much as we like to think otherwise, love familiar above most anything. There is still comfort in being the maniacal, overworked bitch. There is still comfort in being the distant, sullen arse. There is still comfort in being a part of a crappy relationship or going to a soul-sucking job. We tell tell ourselves we’re stuck and there’s nothing we can do. But, truth is, it’s familiar. Familiar is safe. That’s why we do it. It serves us. The real work is in identifying those destructive places and people and closing the door when efforts to improve the situation have proven futile. Not just massaging them, trying to manage them more efficiently, but radically letting go and doing something different. Something that honours your one and only precious life.
It is a death of sorts. Many, many births and deaths in one life is, in my estimation, one of the markers of an expansion mindset. It’s uncomfortable, to be sure. Who knows what’s on the other side? But that’s not ours to know. What is ours is to move with courage and hold the knowing that our Creator holds for us the meeting place of our higher selves. Resonance. Harmony. We act in that good faith and we are met with the rightness we need. It may not look like we want it to at the time, but hindsight delivers the lessons. We know nothing, that’s why there’s this thing called “faith”. Faith in the abundance and beauty of all creation. Faith that there is order even when all we see is chaos. All we can do is act from that belief and trust that our courage will deliver that which is ours.
Amidst the out of control calamity Troy and I found ourselves in at our first farm, it was probably the series of decisions we had made, the wrong ones that branched off into further wrong ones, that brought the greatest sense of stress and division in our lives. We were so far away from the quality of lives we had agreed to cultivate. Was that farming? Was that life? Did it have to be that way? We were so deeply, emotionally tied to our land and animals. It seemed impossible, how does one even sell a farm and move? How could we ever find a place? Would it just be “same shit, different pile”? The answer, for Troy and I, seemed so far away and unreachable, but the details are never ours to control. We, instead, did what was our work to do. We realigned with our purpose, reclaimed the harmony in our lives, with one another, and watched for the rest that we trusted to be rolling our way.
It turns out, to the question, “How to move an entire farm, animals and all?” the answer is, “ You just do, animals and all.” A new farm, a beautiful home, a place where we could live as we wanted came to be. A place that asked us to down size. A place that insisted we slow down. My man chose me and I chose him. A promise made, a promise kept. And we do it still, every single day. The girding of a relationship. Do what you say. Say only what you mean. There is nothing, not one thing I wouldn’t turn my back on today, not one endeavour or dream or attachment I wouldn’t let go, if it threatened my relationship with him and I know the same is true of him. Many of you know that we have been, are living, in the nightmare of losing a child. Our relationship holds us both. Actions above all else. Because of that, we have an unshakable foundation from which to make all other decisions.
In my next post, I will outline some of those decisions we make on a daily basis so you can see how it is, that having a central core of trust and love to work from, is the most powerful decision making “tool” available.
p.s. I have decided to start including an audio version of my articles for paid subscribers. These can be downloaded if that suits your needs better. A little thank you for your support.❤️
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