The author, Anne Lamott, writes that a friend once told her that ‘every single one of us at birth is given an emotional acre all our own. You get one, your awful Uncle Phil gets one, I get one, Tricia Nixon gets one, everyone gets one. And as long as you don’t hurt anyone, you really get to do with your acre as you please. You can plant fruit trees or flowers or alphabetised rows of vegetables, or nothing at all. If you want your acre to look like a giant garage sale, or an auto-wrecking yard, that’s what you get to do with it. There’s a fence around your acre, though, with a gate, and if people keep coming onto your land and sliming it or trying to get you to do what they think is right, you get to ask them to leave. And they have to go, because this is your acre.’ (Bird by Bird – Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Lamott, A. p44, First Anchor Books Edition, 1995)
As I read this passage I was struck by the thought, ‘how was I tending my own acre?’ Was I actually looking after my own acre or was I standing at the gate taking note of everyone else’s acre? Perhaps I am too busy noticing that others are tending their acre much better than I am. They have beautiful flowers while mine is overgrown and choking with weeds.
Maybe I just happen to like the wild garden look and am happy for it to be overgrown but then I also feel that other people secretly complain and judge me and want me to tidy it up.
Or it could also be that some people are jealous of my acre because I spend a little bit of time tending it and they tell me not to waste so much time on it. Just pour concrete all over it and be done with all that mess.
Are people invited in to my acre or do they ask nicely if they can visit? Do they just walk in and trample all over the few pots I have lovingly tended and minded? And if so, why do I let them do that?
Note from the quote she says that the acre has a fence around it. It also has a gate. This means that it is my space and no one else’s. I am the one who gets to decide who comes in and is allowed to stay. I am also the one who decides who is not invited in at all or if they do come in and disrespect me, I have the right to tell them to go. But not just me, all of us have this right.
What does your acre look like? Do you take the time to look at it from time to time? Maybe you could take some time to do a little meditation and find out?
Put on some nice music or sit in silence if that is better for you. Settle your breathing and try to imagine yourself standing in a garden. What does it look like? Is there a house or cottage in it? What does that look like? Is it homely and comfy and maintained or is the paint peeling and the doors and windows are dirty.
What does the garden look like? Is it well planted and maintained, are things growing nicely or is it overgrown? Can you see yourself walking through it easily or are your legs being snagged by thorns and bushes?
What about the fence and the gate? Are the posts neat and upright or broken and falling down? Does the gate open and close smoothly or does it get stuck and squeak on opening and closing and perhaps need some oil?
Do you see yourself looking around in awe because of its beauty or despair because it is in such a mess and is going to take ages to clean up? If it is the latter remember that there is no pressure on you do clean it all up in one go, it is always there ready for you to visit at any time.
Perhaps you can make a vow to yourself to visit your acre more often and spend some time there, putting in plants and herbs that you like, strengthening the fences and fixing the gate. Sitting quietly for a short spell as the bees hum and buzz from flower to flower and the wind gently ruffles the leaves of the trees.
Bring yourself gently back and then, if you can, walk in a real garden or touch a leaf on a house plant or tree on your street.
I think that perhaps we can all try to remember to be careful not to go marching in to someone else’s acre, wearing a big pair of hob-nailed boots, trampling all before us, but to wait to be invited
Mostly I think we might all gain from minding our own acre and not taking note of anyone else’s. I think it’s also important to remember that just as we want others to be mindful of our little acre then we should try to be mindful of theirs. To notice and admire their acre whether it is an award winning flower garden or a concrete patch with a few straggly plants in pots because everyone’s acre is different and special – just as they are.