October 20, 2009
Meditations on a Goat
I’ve never been a sit-still meditator. I tried it once when I was 23 and living in San Francisco and trying things. One week I read Ram Dass and that weekend I decided, as generations of my ancestors did before me, to try Buddhism. I signed up for a meditation weekend at Tassajara in Green Gulch, just north of the city.
I hated everything about that weekend but the food. I had the Tassajara cook book, full of brown rice and sea weed and stir fries and tempeh—things that are time consuming to shop for and prepare—so I appreciated that the kitchen staff would be making those recipes for me. Buit in between meals I had to sit on the floor in a long airy conference room and meditate. Stay still. Cross my legs until they inevitably cramped or fell asleep.
A monk walked back and forth like a colonel in Stalag 17 and used a single strong finger to poke the place on my back that he wanted me to straighten. I spent every session trying to gauge by the sound of his barefoot steps how close he was to me and when the next finger poke would come. I decided that except for the food, I’m a lousy Buddhist.
And I still can’t meditate, not like that anyway.
I’m envious that my wife incorporates meditation into her daily routine. She holes up in her study, sits on the floor, and just…sits on the floor. I peak in sometimes and watch her, which seems pretty romantic to me. She wears sunglasses and a hoodie. I call it Unabomber Meditation. It clearly works for her.
My own meditation is this: I watch the goat and chickens.
This past July I rescued a pygmy goat from the same Huntington Park butcher store cum pet shop I rescued our chickens from. It’s a longer story, which I’ll get to, but one thing I’ve found is that a goat can be…entrancing.
Evidently I’m not alone. There’s a whole book, “The Year of the Goat,” that chronicles the adventures of a couple who left their home and set out on a year-long journey to document goat-raising in America. It is not sappy or farm-y or simply nostalgic: Margaret Hathaway and Karl Schatz are photo-journalists who clearly see a link between the health of “goat culture” in America and the health of the family farm, the environment and the food supply. (Schatz himself is a Time magazine photog who also authored, “A Culture Rekindled: Jewish Traditions Return To Russia.” In 1994 he traveled to Poland to document the creation of Warsaw’s first Jewish day school in 45 years.). Even if you haven’t fallen under the goat spell, you’ll like this book.
Anyway, last evening I got home from work as the sun was setting, went to the backyard, and just stared at the goat. This morning I took my cup of hot yerba mate out and sippd it while I, yes, stared at the goat. She crunches dry brown ficus leaves and berries. Nibbles the weeds. Tastes the bamboo. And I just watch her, like Walt Whitman lost in his cows, “I think I could turn and live with Animals...”
When darkness fell, I returned the goat—her name is Goldie Horn- to her fenced in yard and walked back inside. I was calm. I was centered. I had meditated.