While driving back from the ram sale at Ashford on 23 September, I was listening to the radio in the car and there was a feature on “mindfulness,” something that seems to currently be very much on trend in certain sectors of the community.
My initial thoughts were “what a load on nonsense,” although “nonsense” may not have been the word I first word thought of. Anyway, when I got home I thought I would look up “mindfulness” and found a number of definitions all basically saying the same thing:
“…paying attention to our moment by moment experience in a way that is non-judgmental and kind. In the beginning we notice how our attention is like a butterfly flitting from one thought to the next. So we start by slowing down and settling our mind through regulating breathing and counting. We then introduce practices that ground us allowing our attention to drop out of the throng of thoughts in our heads into the sensory awareness of the body. We then learn to rest in the present moment getting used to disengaging from our habits of compulsive doing…” Again my first reactive thought was “what a load of nonsense.” But then I started thinking a little deeper about what I had just read.
I am not and never have been what would be described as a religious person, although I was brought up in a household where religion was quite important. My maternal grandmother never had a great deal, but she was always a very contented person, always ready to help others and she always had her Bible with her. She certainly had her own brand of “mindfulness,” in spite of losing her husband at the end of the first world war and being left with two young daughters to raise on her own.
I would however describe myself rather more as a spiritual person rather than religious. I have over the years explored a number of religions – Christianity, Buddhism (although not strictly a religion) and Islam. Having spent a number of years working with peasant farmers in the Middle East it would have been difficult not to develop some understanding of and empathy with Islam. Certainly my experiences of Islam were diametrically opposed to the cruel and hateful perversion of a religion that most people now perceive it to be: extremism in any form is wrong.
To get back to the point, I know I have my own version of mindfulness and that is my sheep. Sheep can be annoying, to put it mildly: they can stubborn, frustrating, occasionally infuriating, they get sick, even drop dead on us from time to time, but they are still my “mindfulness” and, I suspect, they fulfill the same important function for most shepherds and sheep keepers. The simple pleasures that I get from my sheep are innumerable. The first lambs of spring, watching lambs gamboling, a field full of contented, well fed ewes on an autumn morning, the odd ewe that will come and say “hello,” the satisfaction of a well shorn group of sheep, winning a rosette (ideally a red one) at a show; the list goes on, an inestimable catalogue of simple pleasures.
As shepherds and sheep keepers we are a blessed lot, a fact that has been recognised for thousands of years. The numerous Biblical and Koranic references to sheep and good shepherds bear testament to this. I certainly don’t need to practice any contrived form of “mindfulness” or have “mindfulness” training to “..learn to rest in the present moment…..and to disengage from our habits of compulsive doing…” Leaning on a gate observing my sheep, looking out for the early signs of any impending problems, doing what any good stockperson does, certainly does that for me, and I suspect for many others.
On a rather more down to earth note, there certainly seems to be an air of optimism in the sheep sector if the prices paid for breeding ewes and lambs are anything to go by. At sales across the country there has been a significant increase in the prices that producers are prepared to invest in future breeding stock. Lamb prices have stayed relatively firm throughout the late summer and going into the autumn, probably about where they should be.
Higher prices would always be useful, but they do need to be at a point where they do not begin to erode consumer demand. I do hope that the confidence is justified and that what we are seeing now is not just a post Brexit bounce. One thing that we all need to do is to support our producer organisations such as the NFU and National Sheep Association to ensure that they are in a position to raise the profile of British sheep producers and the rest of agriculture throughout the exit dialogues and subsequent trade negotiations.