Weeding the Garden

10 February 2014

There is an area of my garden that is filled with weeds, mostly farmers friend (bidens pilosa), but there are also a few newcomers I noticed this morning. I weeded this area just a few months ago and replaced the weeds with pumpkins that now cover the area and yet still the farmers friend have returned.

As I pulled the weeds up in the early hours of the morning, I reflected on the many lessons that can be learned from these weeds.

From a psycho-emotional standpoint, we all have certain dynamics and patterns that can inhibit the growth of the more positive and healthy behaviours. Old traumas and emotional wounds crop up like weeds and give us the opportunity to learn something as we heal from these injuries.

Like the farmers friend, our attitude towards the weed/injury is important. Do we find ourselves filled with hatred and frustration at these persistent events or can we be mindful and nurture a curiosity about what these patterns have to offer us?

A while back I thought I had really mastered this area in the backyard. I was in fact, somewhat surprised to find that the farmers friend have returned. While I have planted some new perennial flowering bushes to cover some of the area, these are still in their infancy and the pumpkins leave plenty of room for the farmers friend to push through.

This reminds me of how a pattern in our life can reappear unexpectedly. The seeds of this pattern can lie in wait until the right circumstances appear for it to be nourished once again into activity. The farmers friend seeds lay in the ground and recently they came to life with the rain and the sun and the warmth, in great abundance. Alas, I must not let them go to seed this time or walking through my garden will leave me covered with seeds sticking to my clothing.

Here’s an example of how this parallels our lives. Let’s say a young woman, Maggie feels enmeshed with her mother; it is difficult for her to make decisions on her own and to know what she is feeling without it being about what her mother is feeling. In psycho-lingo, Maggie has attachment issues with her mother and in our work together, Maggie works to individuate or differentiate herself so that she can feel more autonomous and have a stronger sense of self-identity outside of the relationship with her mother. Perhaps after some months or even years sometimes, Maggie feels a strong sense of her own identity and our work is done. She feels that she can make her own decisions, gets married and has children. But then, perhaps like the rain and the sun and the warmth that nurture to life the farmers friend plants, Maggie’s life conditions change and she and her husband Paul separate from each other some years later. This is a difficult time and Maggie’s mother steps in to help Maggie make the transition and to help with childcare. However, one year later Maggie finds herself angry with her mother and once again having a difficult time thinking for herself and making important life decisions. Her confidence in herself has waned as her self-esteem wavers and once again she comes in to work on these issues.

Now looking back at the garden, if the weeds were removed quite thoroughly and repetitively in the first cycle or cycles, then the return of the weeds can be much easier to manage. Perhaps I have better tools now. I know not to tug too much or my back will ache. I have mulch to put down in their place.

Similarly because Maggie worked hard the first time around and reached a depth of understanding about her situation with her parents, our work progresses quickly as Maggie reconnects with herself more deeply and realises that she needs to allow herself to feel her grief over the loss of the relationship. Maggie again works to stand on her two feet solidly and to nurture herself well with self-care. This time around it is more like a chiropractic adjustment when the body knows how it feels to be aligned.

After pulling out weeds for a while this morning, I could feel myself beginning to tire, so I harvested some seeding mustard plants from a nearby bed, ran my hand over the seed pods and scattered seeds everywhere. Then I shook the plants as well to rain seeds on any bare patches. In fact, as I was weeding I could see tiny sprouts of various greens that had similarly broadcast as seeds over the years.

As we understand and face the dysfunctions in our life, we start to put in place new behaviours. We have the opportunity to water new seeds, new sprouting beliefs and ways of being in the world. Some think that we don’t have much free will in life but that there is a window of opportunity there for us to choose which seeds of consciousness we wish to water and which we allow to go dry. 

As Thich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese Buddhist writer and teacher says,

“Your mind is like a piece of land planted with many different kinds of seeds: seeds of joy, peace, mindfulness, understanding, and love; seeds of craving, anger, fear, hate, and forgetfulness. These wholesome and unwholesome seeds are always there, sleeping in the soil of your mind. The quality of your life depends on the seeds you water. If you plant tomato seeds in your gardens, tomatoes will grow. Just so, if you water a seed of peace in your mind, peace will grow. When the seeds of happiness in you are watered, you will become happy. When the seed of anger in you is watered, you will become angry. The seeds that are watered frequently are those that will grow strong.”[1]

This afternoon, the Japanese family who live on our community dropped by for a visit. The father came down with the three children 1, 5 and 7 years of age. Together we ate small red salvia flowers that have a happy feel to them and everybody giggled together as we shared our love for the plants around us and for each other.


[1] Thich Nhat Hanh in Anh-Huong & Hanh, 2006, 22



About Ruth R

psychotherapist, eco-counsellor director of Rainforest Information Centre environmental and social justice work breathing
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