There is nothing better for my soul than gardening. The sun is too bright for me to see the screen of my phone so I keep it inside. The fresh air kisses my skin. I get on my knees with my floral printed gloves and pull scraggly weeds from the rich soil around my vegetables and flowers. I check the leaves on my squash plants, wondering just which critter nibbled that heart-shaped hole through the green fibers. I pluck a juicy cherry tomato from the vine, rub it against my cotton shorts and pop it into my mouth. I roll it on my tongue feeling its smooth skin then slide it between my teeth to pop it open. The warm, sweet juice fills my mouth. My tomatoes taste better than any other tomatoes. They just do.
I get back to gardening, amazed that from tiny, nearly invisible seeds, I’ve grown hearty plants with sturdy stems and thick leaves that bear sustenance that can feed my family. I’ve taken something small and put it in fertile soil, watered it, gave it space to grow, removed the suffocating weeds and it’s flourished into a delicious vegetable to feed my body or a beautiful flower to please my imagination.
There are so many weeds.
To have a good life you have to learn how to handle the nourishing plants, the beautiful flowers and the toxic weeds that grow in your personal garden.
To give my garden room to grow, I have to regularly get my hands in the dirt and pull out the weeds. They grow so fast; their desire to take over the goodness is insatiable, but their roots free from the dirt easily. I toss them in a pile. They are good for nothing. Not even for the compost. I will throw these pathetic, flimsy weeds over the back of my fence and never think of them again.
What if I hesitated before pulling the weeds? What if I felt obligated to find them a new patch of earth in my yard? What if I thought that because they were green and plentiful and grew easily that they had some value? I have no attachment to my weeds, I know they add no value and even pose a threat to my garden. So I pull them swiftly and toss them in a pile for the woods.
But we do this with ideas and people don’t we? We keep them around even when we suspect they don’t add value, even when we have seen they do damage to our self-esteem, to our confidence, to our clarity of mind. The world is complex and dynamic. It is a mix of good and bad and it’s our journey in life to learn how to avoid the bad while cherishing the good. It’s easy to tell the invasive plants and pests in my garden. My mother taught me, books teach me, other gardeners teach me and I can see with my own eyes what makes my garden thrive.
The same is true with people. I know that someone who lies to me, abuses me, takes me for granted, uses me, take more than he or she gives or is hurtful should not be in my life. My family taught me, books have taught me, friends have taught me and I’ve paid the consequences of heartbreak, suffered betrayal, cried myself to sleep and yet, faced with a person who reduces us, hurts us, so many of us make excuses for them. We are afraid to call these people out as pests. We feel bad about protecting our garden. Why do we give them more respect than we give ourselves?
These weeds grow fast. They can take over the garden in a few days. Just like gossip, a rumor, a bad attitude, an infectious idea can spread fast. Is it any wonder things go “viral?” Once they get their strength nothing can stop them. Viruses make you sick. Viruses can kill you. And viral ideas that spread through society or a community can make you sick too.
When’s the last time someone’s achievement went viral? When is the last time someone’s lasting love got the same press as their divorce? It’s important to develop a gauge to measure the value in the people and information we have in our lives and it’s vital to our emotional health and well-being to swiftly remove the pests without regret or fanfare.
It’s hot. I start to sweat.
My skin is covered in perspiration. I feel the sweat dripping from my hairline down my neck, down my back. I feel droplets tumbling between my cleavage. Even my elbows and knees are sweating but it’s good for me. I’m cleaning out my pores, releasing toxins, replenishing the balance in my body.
As I pull weeds, prune plants, till soil and water, I think. This is the second best part of gardening after the fresh air. When do I ever get time to think anymore? When do you? I consume information. I consume entertainment. I am consuming day after day of my life without the necessary time to chew. I could make myself sick. I could choke living like this. I’ve choked before. I work, I play, I eat, I sleep and I love but when do I get the chance to process and digest my life? This is the new luxury: reflection. It is rare and priceless, matched only by it’s fair sister “undivided attention.”
Sometimes I wonder if part of why sex is so prized and sought after is because it is one of the few times we have our partner’s full, undivided attention. How sad! And when do we give ourselves that same full, undivided attention? Almost never!
Gardening helps me to think. My hands are occupied with a repetitive task that opens my mind to contemplation, reflection, processing information and making sense of my life. It’s one of the best ways to clear my mind. It occurs to me that our minds really are a garden capable of taking tiny seed ideas and growing hearty, nourishing philosophies. But if we don’t tend to our minds, if we don’t weed the toxic thoughts, the flimsy ideas, the negative suggestions, it will be occupied with garbage. The weeds will strangle the tomatoes, the flowers will turn brown and our minds will resemble an abandoned lot.
Our thoughts, our bodies and our hearts are connected. Neglect one and the others will also starve. This takes time. It takes commitment. It takes an attitude of being accountable for your life and the direction you move in. It takes an understanding of how to identify the thought weeds. How to feed, rotate and sustain the nutritious vegetables, and how to prune and protect the delicate, beautiful flowers.
I just don’t think I could clear my mind in the recycled indoor air. Nor could I organize my thoughts in the artificial electric light. The constant temperature doesn’t inspire my body to expel the physical toxins through sweat and as such the toxic thoughts won’t move either.
I grab my pile of weeds and throw them over the fence. I turn on the hose and water the garden, watching the soil turn darker as it absorbs the clear sprays of water. I’ve tended my garden and in so doing, I’ve also decided to abandon two projects and start another. I’ve identified the cause of the conflict in a puzzling social situation. I’ve identified small failures in relationships with my children, friends, my lover and my job and re-aligned myself with my goals. I’ve remembered the value in my life of nature and God, of good food, of exercise. I’ve forgiven a friend. I’ve laughed at myself. I’ve brainstormed and experienced “A-Ha!” again and again. I’ve chewed on my life, spit out the gristle and digested the meat. I’ve tilled my soil, harvested my bounty, weeded out useless, harmful waste and the feeling of congruence with my purpose is undeniable. I’ve got no anxiety. I’m awake. I’m alive.
It’s a Kitten Holiday.