Six months ago, I left my life in Los Angeles to move to a farm in County Clare, Ireland. Why? For a boy. But that’s a (hopelessly romantic) story about reconnecting with my first love for another post.
Since becoming a gainfully employed grown-up, I’ve lived in some amazing cities. New York. Boulder, Colo. Venice Beach, Calif. But it’s taken moving into a little stone cottage on hundreds of impossibly-green acres in Ireland to pick up a few life lessons that have somehow eluded me until now.
No. 1: Silence is scary—but necessary. Our cottage is on a road that approximately five cars, nine tractors, 12 donkeys, and 15 horses travel every day. And while I definitely don’t miss the horns that blew non-stop when I lived in Midtown Manhattan or the steady stream of cars that was the constant background noise at my apartment in LA, I can tell you that silence has a sound—and it’s one that inspires a lot of introspection. It gives you space for your thoughts. It offers no distraction to latch onto when those thoughts take you to the dark places. And because I can’t walk to a coffee shop, take any number of yoga classes offered every hour on the hour, or fill up my week with happy hour and dinner dates with friends, I’ve had to sit in the silence and face what comes up—a frustrating, yet amazingly beneficial, process.
No. 2: Homemade food is worth the effort. There’s no drawer full of takeout menus here, and we’re a 30-minute drive from the nearest restaurant. That means I eat home-cooked meals every day, three times a day. Do I miss me some spicy tuna rolls? Yep. Does my body feel better when I eat meals I’ve prepped and cooked myself? I bet you can guess the answer to that one. Oh, and convincing yourself you have no time to cook is ridiculous. A tasty, nutritious, homemade meal can come together in less time than it takes to pick up that sushi take-out.
No. 3: Time on a farm will make you more conscious about what you eat. Those free-range, antibiotic-free chicken cutlets you’re about to cube and toss into a stir-fry used to be real-live chickens who, if they were lucky, lived on a farm and spent their days hopping around with their chicken friends. As for that perfectly packaged sirloin you’ll season and toss on the grill, that cow took a scary ride to a cattle mart to get auctioned off, fattened up, shot with a stun gun, and slaughtered. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy a juicy, medium-rare steak every once and a while. But I also remember my first trip to the cattle mart before mindlessly tossing meat into my grocery cart.
No. 4: Knowing how to do “man” work is good for you. I grew up in a pretty liberal household in the ’80s and ’90s, so it always bothered me on some level to see so many chores delineated in traditional ways. Mowing the lawn, chopping wood, lighting the fire, and fixing the barbeque: all dad. Ironing, gardening, taking care of sick kids, and making sure the baseboards were spotless before Grandma’s visit: mom. So when winter hit in cold, damp Ireland and I found myself in this stone cottage with no central heating, the fact that I’d never learned how to build a proper fire was a problem. Obviously, it wasn’t a huge problem. One five-minute lesson, and I could build a blaze big enough to keep my bum warm. But it got me thinking of all of the other things I should know how to do, like changing a tire or using a chainsaw. Necessary? Definitely not when you live in a city and possibly not even in the countryside. Yet it’s got to be a good thing to actually be able to back up that old feminist standby, “Anything you can do I can do better.”
No. 5: Slowing down will show you things. When I first landed in Ireland, the lack of yoga classes every hour on the hour inspired serious power walks up and down our quiet country road. I’d plug into my iPod and charge down the beautiful, tree-lined avenue—an 8-K out-and-back route. On a few of these walks, my boyfriend and his dog would join me and, well, slow me down. He stopped to talk to horses, or let the dog play with a posse of donkeys. Sometimes he’d just stop to lean on a tree and listen to the birds. My go-getter self couldn’t stand it—until I decided to chill out. I told myself that those home-cooked meals were keeping me from packing on the pounds, so I started walking with the sole purpose of enjoying being outside. Let me tell you: If you stop to talk to a horse, there’s a really good chance that horse will not only listen, but talk back to you, too.
No. 6: There’s no such thing as stability. The older I get, the more I seem to crave constants in my life. Trust that the people I love most in this world aren’t going anywhere; that work will stay steady; that life isn’t about to take a turn for the awful. Obviously, none of this is guaranteed, and there’s no better reminder of this than watching things that are out of your control unravel on a farm. Calves are born, and some get sick and die. Plans are made and then changed due to weeks of heavy rain. The goal, it seems, isn’t to hope things don’t go wrong but to be adaptable when they do. Not only does that give you the best shot at a better outcome, but it also takes away a whole load of stress before the unknown inevitably happens.
No. 7: You don’t need to live on a farm in the middle of nowhere to learn these lessons. Does it help to be taken totally out of your element and plopped into a brand-new situation? I think it speeds up the learning curve. But if I’m honest, I could’ve uncovered all of these truths in New York, Colorado, or California. An artist friend recently told me how she kept thinking she needed to go on some kind of yoga or spiritual retreat to find the inspiration to draw and paint again—until she put a blank canvas on her kitchen table and just started drawing. It seems to me it’s the same with anything it’s time to learn. Be open to what’s trying to present itself in your world. Find some quiet and slow down enough to allow it to come up. And maybe even find a horse or a donkey who’ll completely understand.