Learning Humility from the Back Side of a Goat

The sun spills out late here as it has far to climb before pouring down the hillside and washing the farm in a morning glow. The nightingales pass off their songs to percolating clucks of roosting chickens and the self-conscious bray of the donkey who is always afraid she is missing out. The rooster does not just announce the coming dawn but every moment of self-satisfaction, which is often. But it is the conversations of the goats, call and response of ewe and kid, and slight cracks of butting heads and jostling horns that form the center of this sonic dawn.

My hands are clumsy on the goats as I fumble to draw milk from their udders. Zerife, a village woman, smiles patiently as I make slow progress. She has finished milking five goats and I am part way through my second. She quickly finishes the goat I had been working on and then squeeze a few more drops from the other I had thought was finished.

She has headphones in and is listening to music as she milks. As we release the goats from their stanchions I see her sing a long to the music in her ears and for a moment, she even moves her hips. When she realizes she is being watched, she blushes and stops.

From her pocket she pulls two hard caramel candies. One for me and one for her.

The goats leave and she goes with them. I am alone to clean the milking parlor and then pen. A slow spray from the hose cleans the milk I dropped and the other gifts the goats have left behind. In the pen, I rake their leftovers together with the hay that has been dropped from the feeders.

The compost pile grows every day I am here. The heat from the center of this mound is constant as a hidden world of microbes silently works to create new rich soil.

The dark richness of the crumbling fresh hummus is prepared for a future garden planned for years to come. My next task is to continue the small stone terraces down the hillside that will be the home of future beds of tomatoes, peppers, beans and eggplant.

The ground here is clay and rock. It does no good to try and use a shovel without first taking to the ground without a pickaxe. Rough and hand hewn, the handle transfers its hardness to my hands. Each strike against unforgiving rock reminds me that this day will be long. The warming sun tells that this day will also be hot.

Rocks and goats. They are humiliating.

To be humiliated, in its greatest sense, is to have the sorts of experiences that cultivate humility within. Each day that I worked on this farm I have been humiliated. The more I have been humiliated the more I come to understand that it is exactly this experience I have needed.

No specialness of my person or charisma of my being makes a rock easier to move. No persuasiveness of my words or cleverness in my intellect charms a goat in need of milking.

A goat doesn’t care who you have met with, work for, or lines of text on a business card. A stone is no respecter of persons.

Everything that I have ever experienced had been through my own senses, intellect and understanding. I know the world first and foremost through myself. And every time a goat kicks my milk pail and rock resists my pick I am reminded that I do not define reality. The world in which I find myself does not bend freely to my will.

Nothing knocks you out of the center of the universe like goat droppings in your face.

The obviousness of these limitations reminds me of what has always existed but I easily forget. I have limits. What makes me me is not just what I am but also what I am not. These boundaries are what give me form.

To be humiliated is not to be made less than I was before. Rather it is to be more of the self that most deeply exists as all that I am not is stripped away. Being humbled is not a destruction from which we cannot recover but an essential refining without which we cannot truly live.

Oh consider the goats you sluggard! Consider their ways and be wise. If you do not see the wisdom in submitting to the whims and frivolities of the goats, can you see anything at all?

Your shouts of praise have become far too soft and this is why even the rocks now cry out! For they have discovered the joy of fulfillment in being all that their Creator has intended them to be.

Humiliation can harden our hearts and crack our spirits leaving us painfully pulled from others. Or it can be the Refiner’s fire which strips away from ourselves all the debris that has separated us from others all along.

As the evening comes we all share a beer at sunset. Dinner is cooked over a wood stove. We laugh and tell stories. Sharing together in the humiliation of the day, we connect.

There is joy.

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