July 26, 2012

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary: What happens when you don’t weed the garden. ~ Amy Ratto Parks

It’s July and I just finally weeded my lawn. In Montana that isn’t quite as late as other places, but I can’t kid myself. It’s pretty pathetic.

It is around this time of year I am reminded of how much my relationship to weeding is similar to my relationship to my meditation practice, which is this:

Mostly what I do is put it off, beat myself up about it, and then finally do it. (Then I only remember the last part.)

As I sit on my back porch considering the weeds, the long grass, and the lilies which happen to be blooming in spite of me, I realize that I idealize my lawn in the same way I sometimes idealize my practice: the imagined is much more beautiful than the actual. I have come to believe that thinking about meditation or intending to meditate is the same as doing it–just like I sit on my back porch and intend to weed the garden. Funny enough the results are the same.

First, I don’t just think about doing it–most of the time I am also ribbing myself for not having done it yet. Part of me says, “Who cares about the yard,” then the next part says, “The yard looks like hell,” and continues, “and it looks like hell because you are lazy and are sitting on a cheap lawn chair reading a book.”

Second, I convince myself that the lawn really doesn’t need weeding/I don’t really need to meditate. I tell myself the following:

I need to attend to the details of daily life; one can’t always be on the cushion.

Even the teachers say this is true with the important condition that one can be mindful in the daily details.

I just did it yesterday so why jump right back to it?

Teachers don’t really say this.

I feel relaxed and calm so I don’t need to meditate.

No teachers say this.

Third, it becomes a big deal and then eventually it becomes a really big deal. I beat myself up about it and begin to question my values and discipline. I’ll spare you the details and assume that most people can fill in the particulars of escalated self-criticism.

Finally, I gear up for it. I make a mental plan and get the right clothes on. I make sure my goals are reasonable and then I walk over the rose bed and start pulling up handfuls of last year’s leaves. I rip out the renegade grass growing from under the neighbor’s fence, and pull up the aspen seedlings. I notice that some of the aspens and maples are already two feet high–when was the last time I did this?

It isn’t too long before I remember the same thing I remember ever year: that each weed I pull out, dig up or cut down is metaphorically much the same as exploring my thoughts in meditation and letting go of deep-rooted things like judgment, self-deception, and vanity; shallow-rooted but itchy things like compulsively making mental lists, and worrying about results, and pulling up other people’s things that have grown into my space their judgments, impressions, or ideas about my life.

By then I am more focused. I notice that some weeds pull out easily but only if I pull them one by one. There are some I have to dig for so I get the trowel out and lean my weight into it. And there are some I have to cut off, knowing that they will just grow back.

But no matter what, I pull things up, I feel the roots tear away from the soil, and I start to find all of the plants that were hiding under their shadows. There is lemon balm, silver nightshade and hosta. All this time I thought weeds were the only thing there.

And the thing is, it is always easier than I think it is going to be. In very little time things look a better, cleaner, more tended. I am dirty and covered in rose thorn scratches and spiders and scattered dirt, and the yard doesn’t even look a million times better, but I feel like everything has changed. I can recognize that there is still work to be done, but no matter how much you do, that’s always the case, right? No matter what, there is always more work to be done, it’s just that some days we’re better at accepting the long road ahead.


Amy Ratto Parks is a poet, yogi and writing teacher in Missoula, Montana. She has lived in her house for four years and so far only things that have bloomed were planted by the previous owners. She decides not to view this as a metaphor.



Editor: Seychelles Pitton

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