I went to visit a biodynamic winery recently in California. Since my visit I’ve been learning about the history and definition of biodynamic farming. Maybe you know all about it, if not let me introduce you to the idea and its founder, Rudolf Steiner.
Rudolf Steiner, who lived from 1861 to 1925, experienced life juxtaposed between two worlds; a rich inner life with deep spiritual experiences and wisdom contrasting with the engagement and study of the technological and scientific advancements of his time.
Steiner sought to bring these two worlds together, to integrate spirituality with scientific progress and process.
And he believed that the spiritual foundation and the development of the inner life of the individual was needed before there was going to be any advancements in the external world.
Prophet of Renewal
Long before Rob Bell, Steiner was proposing that all things have a spiritual DNA and we have the opportunity to participate with that in creating a world we want to live in.
Steiner is remembered and revered as a prophet of renewal, asking and answering the question how do we create systems, protocols, and procedures that works alongside what nature provides humans? How do we be a part of the progress of the natural world in healthy, sustainable, and spiritual ways?
One of the answers to that question was biodynamic farming. (So was Waldorf schools, which is whole different topic.)
I’ve learned all of this since visiting the Benziger Family Winery; a beautiful family farm that is cultivated in harmony with its particular place in the Sonoma Valley. Visiting the farm had a deep impact on me; the intention and thoughtfulness of the entire operation was evident and obvious.
From my tour of the farm, I learned the Benziger family winery is sustainable, organic, and biodynamic.
Sustainability is defined as working within an ecosystem; making sure that farm processes can be maintained by the animals and plants on that land.
Organic is avoiding all synthetic chemicals and using natural methods to control weeds and pests.
The Benziger family winery website describes biodynamic farming as
when you eliminate all the artificial crutches, you learn to trust your instincts and to trust nature’s ability and capacity to make a great wine.
Farming, the transformation of soil, sunlight, and nutrients into food has provided people throughout the ages with not just sustenance, but metaphors to describe and understand the transformational process of the individual.
So let’s give a small tweak to that biodynamic defintion.
When you eliminate all the artificial crutches, you learn to trust your instincts and to trust nature’s ability and capacity to make a great human being.
Learning to fall
On the journey to wholeness (to becoming a great human being or a great bottle of wine) as you eliminate all the synthetic stuff, go organic, so to speak; as you eliminate unsustainable practices, and especially the “artificial crutches”, you might fall. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed you will.
And speaking from my own painful experience, you land hard when the crutches are knocked out from under you.
A couple years ago the crutches fell down in our marriage. For years I had been leaning on my wife, trusting in her and on her to prop me up, to make me feel good about myself. It was deep and pervasive in our marriage and it was a crutch. And when it was knocked out from under me it’s like my face hit the concrete.
It completely sucked and was painful and disorientating but those crutches needed to be removed so I could see the reality of our marriage, the reality of my life.
What we were doing was not sustainable. And if we were going to have a sustainable relationship there needed to be a renewal, but first a fall.
Integrity is often understood as moral “uprightness”, upholding a standard of excellence, being virtuous, having it all together.
But there’s another meaning to the word integrity.
Integrity is when you are whole, when you are unified and undivided within yourself. You are integrated when all the parts of yourself are woven together, all present, all belonging.
When you have integrity you have an internal structure so there is no need for something artificial to prop you up. No crutches.
When you have integrity you are biodynamic. You are all in one. A closed system of sustainability where everything has a place. The compost fertilizes the field, the soil grows the grapes, the insects pollinate the blossoms, the sheep eat the grass. It all belongs. It works together.
The Benziger’s say:
We don’t just farm this way because we think caring for the land is the right thing to do, it also happens to be the best way to make distinctive, authentic wines.
Likewise we don’t live with integrity, all in one, because it’s the right thing to do, as if morality is the top virtue.
We choose to live biodynamically because the best version of ourselves – the richest, most distinct and authentic wine – is produced by the integration of all the parts of ourselves. All into one.
Grab a glass a wine and join me in this podcast as I dig into the backstory of the founder of Waldorf schools and biodynamic farming, tell the experience of losing the crutches I had depended upon in my marriage, and propose that integrity is a much richer and earthier idea than moral excellence.
Media & Resources mentioned in this episode:
- For more on Steiner’s life, as related to biodynamic farming see this article.
- Everything is Spiritual by Rob Bell
Music “New Day Dawning”, “Wilderness Whispers”, and “The Great Beauty” by Outside the Sky.