Why do we pull weeds from a garden? What happens if we don’t pull them?
Poet William Wordsworth once wrote: “Come forth into the light. Let nature be your teacher.” If we could only fully comprehend this…
For many of us, the summer usually brings with it plenty of opportunities to pluck the surplus of natural foliage: The weeds grow in mulch beds like something supernatural sows them every night. It’s amazing how insanely fast everything grows outside when (and where) you don’t really want it to… Here lately, after the pop-up T-storms (more like thunderpocalypses here in the southeast), I’ve been pulling weeds in the evening. Because time always seems in short supply and it’s difficult to set aside hours for daily meditation, I’ve been practicing combining certain activities with a little gratitude ritual of being thankful for all that I see and have been blessed with. After all, I can’t really enjoy the things I have if I’m too busy wishing for or envying stuff I don’t. It’s a bit of a hippie dippy activity, but it helps me.
Back to the weeds. Whatever constitutes our definition of what makes a weed is dependent on our relationship to it and the meaning we give it, and it really just varies from person to person. But nearly all of us can agree that what makes a weed a weed is when a naturally occurring plant grows and “invades” our gardens, mulch beds, our tidy house exterior, and our property edges. It’s “out of place” or “unwanted.”
Recently on one of my weed pulling practices, the universe lovingly slapped me with another metaphor that, at least for me, is fairly useful; but before I continue, let me just say this: The following perspective is something that I by no means claim to have mastered, conquered, or even become “proficient” in. I just humbly offer it as another life survival skill that might add to someone else’s perspective.
As I pulled this weed and that weed from here and there I noticed that the areas where I’d recently pulled from still looked good. What weeds I found there were small and easy to pluck up because their roots had yet to become strong and simply “well-rooted.” In contrast, the areas that took the most time to weed were those I had avoided for longer stretches of time. The weeds I found there were tough. They did not want to let go. In fact, some of them even stuck their thorny protrusions into the creases of my index finger and thumb—the kind of splinter that is so small yet so there in your hand that when you try to remove it, it evades every jab from the pin or tweezer. Every single time you wash your hands or grip something, it reminds you that that weed did not go gently into the night. And this, too, serves a purpose.
War wound or not, I consider myself pretty good at pulling up weeds. But as I quieted my mind while I swatted at mosquitoes and wiped the sweat dripping from my brow, a metaphor took shape, and those weeds and the flower beds I found them in closely resembled certain thoughts I find floating through my mind more often than I am willing to admit: Those weeds weren’t much different than the negative, unproductive and even spiritually damaging thoughts I sometimes entertain. Sometimes, indecisiveness and procrastination of pulling those weeds aren’t really much different than actually fertilizing and encouraging them to grow. And everyone knows that all weeds really need to thrive is some time and intentional disregard—just like the weeds growing in the garden of our minds that we tend to ignore.
Those weeds, those thought patterns and damaging emotions, well, they make up a slippery slope downward, kind of like an increasingly steep slip n’ slide to hell if you will, and what the world doesn’t tell you is how slippery that the slippery slope actually is. It’s much more than most of us think, but like any change we attempt to make, it begins with having a level of awareness that perceives that slippery slope—and to be aware of where the weeds grow. That awareness that brings us to tend to the garden of our mind also helps us discover that the weeds there are those things that are self-destructive, damaging, and all-consuming in every aspect of our lives. And they can take over, and when they do, they’re much harder to remove.
Most of the time, those mental and emotional weeds are intentionally avoided because of the pain associated with them. We’ll make our own excuses to not have to deal with them, we put limitations on ourselves, and we may even cling to negative self-beliefs all in a sort of subconscious avoidance of those weeds. And awareness is the only way that we will find resolution. After all, you can’t fix or change something that you don’t acknowledge.
It’s important to keep in mind that pulling weeds takes work—I mean REAL work. You’re going to sweat, get dirty, and become frustrated. You might even get stuck, bitten, or stung by something, and that is why you must be aware and attentive. But in the end, just like the accomplishment and satisfaction you feel after you complete a feat in your yard, there will be peace when the garden is clear. You might have a splinter or a scratch to remind you to weed more regularly or even use another approach to pull them up, but you’ll be all the wiser for the next time that you must do so. And like those splinters and pricks, the mental weeds you will struggle with internally may remind you of your current limitations or perceived imperfections and cause a bit of suffering you might have to endure (simply as a part of the aware human experience and a conscious life’s journey), but those wounds do heal.
So, the next time you pull up that unsightful weed that just so happens to be growing exactly where it’s not wanted, remember to think about what’s going on in your head, what thoughts that you’re unconsciously nurturing by neglect, and pluck those suckers up. After all, do you want a head full of unwanted weeds? Not me. Do yourself a favor and stay busy removing the excessive negative there. Your mind will look a lot more manicured and be a lot more welcoming.