Tuesday, 18 September 2012

LIFEHERDING


Analogies between life and goat herding sound like something that you would find in a poem by 13th Century Sufi poet Rumi. But I learnt an approach to life from the goats that has stayed with me and that I have already tried to put into use.

On some occasions I worried that the goats were going off in a direction in which they shouldn’t, I couldn’t see over the peak of the hill and I called and whistled as if to say to the goats ‘come this way’ but sometimes they didn’t. The herd generally stays together and moves around as a grazing group, it is hard to watch how this happens, because it happens slowly in little incremental movements. The animals just seem to be in tune with each other and if you whistle gently to guide them they might look up at first and not seem to be responding but then they slowly move, almost as a rolling body bit by bit. But sometimes when I thought I needed to move them and they weren't responding I would say to the dogs, ‘go and get the goats/ va chercher les Alphachèvres’ but they didn’t, they just looked at me, so I tried louder and stronger, with more pointing and they still didn’t and just looked at me and then looked away. In this situation when I finally climbed my way to the top of the hill or the centre of the thicket to see if everything was ok, it usually was. It then occurred to me, once this had happened a few times that maybe there was something they knew that I didn’t. There was, they know the landscape better than me and as long as I could guide them away from eating in vineyards or olive groves all was well. And then when this was the case and there was a good reason to move on they did actually listen to me as if they knew they were pushing their luck and were just waiting to be told.


Countless times in life, I have felt like I am trying to herd my life in the way that I think it should go and felt like I was being ignored. As in goat herding, maybe I am learning that my essential nature knows the landscape of this world more than my ego-mind does and even if I shout and point and make a fuss, when it is irrelevant, it just falls on deaf ears and some sort broader intelligence has the upper hand. What I learnt in goat herding but haven’t grasped in normal life quite yet is when to make a fuss and when to let it be. If I can’t see what is coming or what is important I just don’t know whether the lesson is to keep protesting or to go with the flow. On my last day herding the goats, my successor who I was showing the ropes kept asking me if the goats were ok because at points we could hear from their bells that they were way off to one side out of sight in the woodland. I knew that they were ok and it was then that I realized I had learnt the lay of the land and had learnt to trust the animals and knew that I could find them or guide them in the right direction when it was necessary. It is my aim to understand the lay of the landscape in life in the same way and to be able to practice the same trust daily.

Between now and starting writing this piece I did a quick google search for ‘Rumi goats’ and unbeknown to me there was a Rumi goat poem which has some relevance, here it is:

The Lame Goat
You've seen a herd of goats
going down to the water.

The lame and dreamy goat
brings up the rear.

There are worried faces about that one,
but now they're laughing.

because look, as they return,
that goat is leading!

There are many different kinds of knowing.
The lame goat's kind is a branch
that traces back to the roots of presence.

Learn from the lame goat,
and lead the herd home.

--Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)
(translated by Coleman Barks)