Wilf Davies has been a farmer in Wales all his life. Even as his friends left to find work in big cities, he stuck around the Teifi valley, growing food and tending sheep. Today, he’s 72 and still at it. “This valley is cut in the shape of my heart,” he says in an as-told-to essay at The Guardian.
In the last Maven Game, I discussed the importance of ritual in building and maintaining a writing habit, even to the point of “self-mesmerism.” Through consistency and repetition, you hypnotize yourself into a state of relaxed flow. You want a ritual? Get a load of Davies:
I have a routine, just like nature. That extends to what I eat. I’ve had the same supper for 10 years, even on Christmas Day: two pieces of fish, one big onion, an egg, baked beans and a few biscuits at the end. For lunch I have a pear, an orange and four sandwiches with paste. But I allow myself a bit more variety; I’ll sometimes have soup if it’s cold.
It goes on like this. Davies is a guy who believes in the extraordinary power of ritual—whether or not he would ever use that word to describe his approach. His supper isn’t complete without a big onion, simple as that. “I’m not interested in other food…I’ve already found the food I love.” All of Davies’s words reverberate with contentment, even joy. “I feel like I’m on top of the world,” he says. Yet there’s no question that farming is a difficult profession, both physically and emotionally. A farmer has to cope with endless uncertainty and grinding labor. Davies’s ironclad habits gird him, mentally and spiritually, against the ceaseless demands of his work. They make him tough:
Whether it’s Easter Day or Christmas Day, being a farmer means every day is the same. The animals still need to be fed. Feeding the sheep and seeing how happy they are makes me happy, too. They never ask for anything different for supper.
This is a guy who’s had several strokes and cares for a bedridden sister on top of everything else. Through his cherished routines, he is able to find beauty in the mundane—though, to Davies, nothing about his familiar valley is mundane—and meaningful purpose in every little task.
There’s something profound about a daily versus even a weekly cadence. The soul thrills to an unbroken chain. It’s a sacrifice—of time, sleep, energy, fun—to commit to doing something every single day of your life. The payoff, as you can see with Davies’s story, may be worth it anyway. The mind and body respond differently to a daily commitment. It works its way deep into your bones: “I have a routine, just like nature.” Humans evolved to the rhythm of the day and the year—the week and the month are recent developments that have nothing to do with nature. There may be something worthwhile about tuning into these primal tempos, if you can. As you look to deepen your writing practice, consider tapping along to a daily cadence.
p.s. I’ve really been enjoying Paolo fromTOKYO’s “Day in the Life” series of YouTube videos. Butcher, student, firefighter, chef: A daily routine brings each person obvious contentment no matter what their vocation. Find a formula and stick to it.