Streams of contentment and lessons learned from animals

In the classic song, “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” John Denver sang, “Life on the farm is kinda laid back”; I’ve always wondered what he meant by that. I visited a dairy farm once and believe me, the amount of work needed to feed, milk, and otherwise care for cows and then get the milk to processing was certainly not laid back. It was arduous to the nth degree.

Now that I’m older, I realize Denver wasn’t talking about the physical life on the farm in that famous song, but instead the mental and emotional and spiritual life, and the focus on the simple cycles of growth and death and regrowth, of connection with soil and water and air, of being part of creation, of family.

It’s the message Robert J. Wicks shares in his latest book, “Streams of Contentment”, lessons he learned as a child while spending summers on his uncle’s farm. (Check out the Patheos Book Club for more reflections on this book.) He shares memories of times that taught him to be alone without being lonely, to see quiet moments at the fishing hole as true meditation, and to understand that what we need to be happy isn’t more, but to be more happy with what we have.

I think that’s something I’ve found from working at home. The cat and dogs don’t sweat deadlines; the only schedule they’re on is lunch time and nap time. They aren’t concerned about paychecks; they have everything they need – food, toys, a warm bed. They don’t crave more food or toys or beds, because more wouldn’t make them any happier than they already are.

They’ve taught me that work begins when the play time is finished, that a nap every afternoon not only rests the body but also the mind, and that a warm puppy kiss can make a dark day brighter.

A newer car, more TV channels, or a more technologically advanced cell phone aren’t keys to happiness, and I’m glad I don’t have to work at a job I hate in order to have things I don’t need. I don’t have an iPhone or iPad or even an iPod; I drive a 10-year-old Jeep I affectionately call the dogmobile, and I love it, even though it doesn’t back into parking spots on its own or have GPS or satellite radio (it doesn’t even have a CD player); I’m only distracted by hundreds of channels on cable TV.

Instead, the interruptions I face throughout the day are not electronic, but canine. Woof! Woof! Let’s play ball! Woof! Woof! Let’s blow bubbles! A ride in the car means we listen to local talk radio and news. My lunch break includes “sleepy nap time”, at least one hour curled up on the couch with the dogs.

Yes, I’m often out of the loop, pop culture-wise. But I don’t think my life is any less full because I wouldn’t know Lady GaGa if I met her in the grocery store.

While working the land and raising farm animals is physically demanding work, there is also a reward for being connected spiritually to the animals, whether it’s gratefulness for a fresh egg or the awe and wonder at seeing a newborn calf take its first wobbly step.

Perhaps if we looked to our animal friends for lessons about life, we might be happier and more fulfilled.

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