Monday, 27 July 2009

The Upside of Weeds and Weeding

Over the last couple of weeks I've been doing something sort of different for me: listening to podcasts while doing yardwork. Normally I like to just hear the sounds of the outside when I am outside, but since I discovered this whole podcast thing, I've enjoyed doing some listening and weeding at the same time.

Last week I was listening to yet another one of Noah Levine's podcasts and while I can't remember the exact details, the gist of the podcast was that the things we think are obstacles really aren't - they are more like things that we need to work through for a reason, and that it's not necessary or even desirable to remove all obstacles all at once. As he was talking and I was weeding it occurred to me that maybe weeds aren't as, well, 'weedy' as we think either.

For one thing, weeds can act as shade for newly sprouting seeds - I know my little bean plants appreciated the shade from some lambsquarters weeds when we had hot spell in May. And a bit later in the season, when it comes time to yank the weeds out, they can be laid on the ground as mulch, helping the soil to retain its moisture. Maybe it sounds corny, but in the same way some of our bad habits and unskillful actions, immature as they are, can serve to protect us while we mature and gain some life experience. Eventually it comes time to get these things out of our lives, but it's still not a bad idea to lay them aside as some 'mental mulch' - reminders of where we've been and what we've learned.

If our gardens didn't have weeds, we probably wouldn't spend as much time in them either. Having to go in there and pull out the weeds from among the deliberately planted plants means that we become much more familiar with what's in the garden and how the plants are doing. We have the opportunity to notice what's growing well and what's doing poorly, where the soil retains moisture and where it tends to be dry, what's a bit buggy and what's vibrant and healthy. In the same way, it's good to spend some time observing the landscape of our thinking, taking note of what type of stuff is flourishing or languishing (or rotting! ;)) in our head. And if some of that stuff isn't useful, if it causes deep dissatisfaction for ourselves or others, it may be time to consider turning it into mulch rather than letting it keep on taking root in space that would be better used to nurture something else. Meditation is one way to do this kind of 'mental weeding.'

Sometimes weeds closely mimic the plants we are actually trying to grow. For example, last year I pulled out many a carrot sprout because they looked a lot like a certain ferny-looking weed (namely, scentless chamomile). And, I left in some weeds that I should have pulled for the same reason. Based on that direct experience, this year I was able to discern what is and is not a carrot, so this year's carrot patch is much more productive. Similarly, sometimes a person needs to get up-close-and-personal with the problems and obstacles in their lives, in order to sort out what's what. Sometimes we keep certain things/ideas/habits in our lives because they seem like the real thing. It's only later, after we see the genuine article and the imposter side by side in full bloom, that we can clearly discern the difference. Those can be difficult lessons, but they sure do stick with you.

Weeding is also a thing that is never really "done." There are always more weeds sprouting here and there, sometimes the same type of weed and sometimes a new variety. Experience with the familiar weeds helps us figure out what to do with the new ones. And over time we get better at preventing the garden from getting overrun with them. The same goes for our head and heart: with some regular and compassionate maintenance, we can prevent things from getting too tangled and overgrown in there, with some space to breathe.

All of this takes time, awareness, attention, intention and effort. Definitely good investments though, both in the garden and in ourselves!

So how's your 'weeding' going?


Eco Yogini said...

I loved this post. I've always felt weird about weeding- as if perhaps we are trying for some sort of uniformity or sterility that just isn't in nature.
Your comparisons to meditation and the spirit are interesting and they speak to me.

this was beautiful :)

so far I have officially weeded my plants once- the garlic specifically. Since they are all in containers I've found less to weed, and I felt weird about pulling out those in the garlic.

Theresa said...

Thanks EcoY. I have become a lot more comfortable with weeds in my garden this year, that's for sure. I remember reading a post from Greenpa that convinced me that a few weeds weren't a bad thing! And when I go to the organic farm, there are quite a lot of weeds there, and the veggies come out just fine!

Anonymous said...

I was at an ashram a few years ago that had a giant organic garden, and we did 'karma yoga' (work as practice) all day. It was around this time of year so there was a lot of weeding to be done. During breaks we would discuss the garden metaphor as a way to look at our habitual behavior. They taught a meditation/visualization where you lie down and imagine your body is a garden. Where are the weeds? Where are the flowers blooming? What needs to be pulled out and what needs to be planted? That practice always stuck with me.. and I started gardening myself soon after :)

SoapBoxTech said...

I quite like this one too.

Weeding is the most basic example of our responsibility as Stewards on this planet. I agree that not all weeds are a bad thing, and perception (as always) is usually the deciding factor. As a person who grew up on a farm, I have always noticed the difference between the truly noxious weeds and those which are simply undesirable (and lesser understood) volunteers. The manner in which thistle, for example, has come to overrun Alberta (in just 40 years) is a prime example. Irresponsible farming and development practices have let this plant take control of an ever increasing area. As well, due to incredibly resilient root systems these cannot even be used as a mulch. I am sure there ARE uses for thistles but no one in their right mind should let a patch of this stuff grow (not that I am suggesting they should be attacked with chemicals either). They just have to be worked at, and as you point out, the work is never actually completed.

I would say that these correspond to the subtle and often subconscious traps, dangers, pits, etc, which are present in our minds. We never finish working to recognize and avoid these, but as with weeding, the work is beneficial beyond the immediate purpose. This is unlike SO much of the work that most of us spend our lives doing, nowadays.

As for the podcast listening, I know what you mean, totally! I have spent pretty much the entire summer working at various tasks on the farm, listening to radio shows, lectures, audio books and music. I, too, love the sounds of nature but for those of us with troublesome attention spans, these little devices are exactly what is needed for this kind of work.

Eva said...

you might like some of these:

Theresa said...

Claire - an ashram, wow! I would so love to go to a retreat setting like that one day. That visualization sounds really interesting - I think it could help to look at ones thoughts/habits in a natural and non-judgmental way while meditating - I will have to try that! Thanks!

Soapbox - Oi, thistles! Those are a challenge alright. Have managed to keep them out of my garden proper, although there are some patches of it elsewhere on our 3 acres. Weeding as stewardship (of the earth and the mind), I like that idea very much :)

Eva - thanks for the link - some of those podcasts do look very interesting, and I am running out of Noah Levine ones!

Anonymous said...

I have found that there can be a calming and meditational state that can be reached when weeding- when you aren't being bothered by mosquitoes or biting flies that is! :)

We have a TON of hosetails in our garden, I swear they grow better than our veggies! But you're right about being given the opportunity to get up close and personal and be able to observe your plants a lot more than you would if it wasn't for the weeds. You notice new growth, learn the sights and smells of your plants, and feel a lot more bonded to your crops. My husband gives me the evil eye when I say I kind of enjoy weeding. Glad I'm not only in finding joy in it!

Theresa said...

SV - ya, the repetition of it is very calming, isn't it? This year, becasue of the very dry conditions we've had virtually no mosquitoes and hardly any flies, so the weeding has been nicer than usual that way, definitely! I like your idea of feeling more bonded to the plants - I would agree with that for sure. I know I have a certain valiantly struggling strawberry plant I like to check on, and some of the more 'runt' sized potato or bean plants get a little more of my attention.

kale for sale said...

What a beautiful post. Thank you. I have a friend that studies herbs who once said that the plants attracted to our yards have something to teach us, some gift. Like the weeds creating perfect shade. Since then I've watched what volunteers or dies with no great conclusions but much curiosity. It's good pondering.

Theresa said...

Thank you Kale :) I am so glad to be learning more about what is growing all around me. As I learn, I really feel the connection increase between me and this piece of land where I get to live. I feel so much more gratitude for what the plants provide. I like what your friend says, and I think I will be even more curious now!

Simply Authentic said...

Incredibly well put and some major food for thought for me right now. Sometimes we keep being led to hoe a certain type of garden when maybe we'd prefer to hoe a different one, but there's a reason for everything. Thanks for the reminder and for giving me something to think more deeply about!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved your post. Your analogy was perfect.

Tao said...

Hi, I read and enjoyed.

The notes on cycles,balance and harmony with mind and garden are nice.

Theresa said...

Oh dear, I see I forgot to reply to some previous comments.

Thanks SA - I'm glad the post was timely for you - it sure resonated with me.

Dolphin - thanks for coming by and taking the time to comment - its funny how the relationship between these things just hit me one day. It's neat what the brain will find when you let it!

Tao - thanks also to you for coming by and commenting - it was your coment that pointed out that I hadn't responded to some others, and I'm glad I got to rectify that. That day in the garden was a good one, and I'm happy to revisit it in my mind.