On Lessons from the Garden

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We have a fairly large sized personal garden at our home. There are flowers, shrubs, veggies, trees, bushes and fruit. I spend a lot of time in our garden during the warmer months. I’ve been thinking about writing this blog for a while because I have some many thoughts when I’m out in the garden that I have wanted to capture in writing.

I’ve had a lot of time about this. Below are some beautiful universal principles that apply to most things in life. I learned in a Franklin Covey work class a few years ago that universal laws exist, operate, and govern our universe whether you know about them or not; and whether or not you believe in them. That’s something I do believe!

My own universal principles from the garden –

  • All life comes from the dirt.
  • Dirt is like a womb. If you plant something in there, it will try to grow it.
  • Dirt doesn’t care what you put in it, it just helps to grow whatever seed is planted.
  • You have the opportunity to create the garden you desire.
  • The garden needs a little bit of what we consider good and bad to adapt, grow, and withstand.
  • The sooner you deal with weeds, the better.
  • The deeper and more often more you tend to the unruly (weeds, branches, vines), the more beauty you are seeking will be free to proliferate.
  • It can be difficult to tell weeds from the good stuff if you don’t have experience, an natural born eye for it (which is rare), or just don’t care.
  • While things may look the same and come from the same place, it’s not necessarily the case.
  • If you do decide to grow something from the start, it consider how it should be nurtured and protected.
  • It’s so much easier to see the beauty in life when you care about something enough to tend to it, see the fine details of it, and also take a step back to appreciate it as a whole.
  • The more time you spend in nature, the more you feel connected to it.

The first time I spent a considerable time weeding as an adult was at the condo I lived at in Naugatuck. It was a really small little patch of dirt in front of the house, but I spent hours picking weeds and rocks from this small space that I “owned”. It was early spring and the first year I lived there, so I wasn’t sure what was going to come out of the ground and what might be a weed. It was incredibly therapeutic. What I loved about it was how I was able to let my mind wander and explore thoughts that were stemming immediately from the task I was doing. I remember thinking about good and evil and how difficult it could be to tell those traits in people, in the same way it’s hard to tell weeds from actual plantings. I went out there many times in a few week period to remove all kinds of rocks, turn over the dirt, and plant some seeds and flowers. The little garden took off from there and I only went out every so often to tend to it.

In my next house we had a lot more land, hence a lot more yard work. Starting in spring and all through summer it became a weekly chore to take care of the lawn and yard. This was new to me. I liked it, but was a bit surprised about how time consuming these tasks were. I quickly fell into a pattern of going out to weed, tossing the weeds into the grass, then lightly evening out the mulch or rocks with a little garden tool before trimming and mowing.

As much as I dreaded it each week, once I got outside and starting weeding; I could have gotten lost for hours with my hands in the dirt, noticing the changes from the prior week, watching the worms, picking the tiniest of all weeds, finding large rocks and deep old, long roots to dig up. If it wasn’t for needing to take care of the kids, or my ex-husband complaining about how long I spent in the garden; I could have stayed there all day. Whenever I was done, I loved to sit down with a book or glass of wine and admire the beauty from afar. I loved knowing intimately what the details close up in each flower bed and the veggie patch looked like, but I also loved seeing the big picture. The big picture at first blush always looked sharper, happier & more alive after I did even the most minute work.

Fast forward to my current house. Daren created a beautiful garden area with several flower beds and a large vegetable garden the first spring we moved to our home in 2012. I LOVE the garden. But it’s a lot of work. Like a LOT. For the first few years I hardly paid attention to it. It was too much work. We would go out to weed maybe once a month and pick these gargantuan monsters. Daren would often use a giant clipper for the really gnarly ones. The veggie garden where we ate from was full of weeds. Daren would use chemicals, newspaper, hay, and all kinds of crazy things to keep them at bay… but they were there, always – right in the midst of everything. When we were done, I have to admit it looked nicer; but I didn’t admire it with pride. And all I could do was look around at the smaller weeds and notice how bad they looked and lament on how little time I had for keeping up this “facade” of beauty. It was exhausting. The garden didn’t seem to be glowing when I stepped back and looked at it from afar. It seemed like an actual burden glaring back at me with sorrow for having been created – like it felt responsible for taking up my time. If it could – the garden had it’s head hung down low.
Last summer I started working part-time. I started to regularly go out in the garden once a week to take care of it. At first it was a lot of work. I wasn’t sure the best way to tackle it. But little-by-little, as I battled the largest weeds; I was able to keep up with the smaller ones more regularly – and before long I was able to tackle all of them every week. Not long after I was in a great routine where I would even out the mulch, trim back certain things, rearrange rocks, sweep the porches, wipe down the furniture…. bring the smaller outdoor decorations inside to be cleaned and washed with warm, soapy water in the sink! Like in the past at my last house, I started to look forward to my weekly yard work, and when I was done I would love to sit back and admire the scenery. It finally looked loved and smiled back at me with a head held high. I took immense pride in the work.

This year I am still working part-time and I was able to get out to the garden early. I’m taking even better care of it this year. I know the different corners of each area intimately. I know where the dirt is thick, where the water collects, where it’s easy to scrape small weeds with my fingers, when to leave the tiny weeds near the fragile seeds and when to remove them. After all these years I’ve learned to notice the ever so subtle difference between what is a weed and what is something coming up from the ground that I want there. To one not paying much attention it all looks the same.

In relation to my universal principles from the garden –

 

All life comes from the dirt.

I grew up Catholic. At the start of each start Lenten season on Ash Wednesday; while receiving ashes, the priest would anoint each person saying “Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return”.

Alan Watts is a famous philosopher that I love to listen to. In several of his talks he speaks of how we as humans have “appled” as a race. Without going into the fine details of one of his famous explanations – I’ll just use one of his quotes “We do not [come into] this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.”

Unless we are astronauts; we don’t leave the planet. We have only come from the planet as far as science can tell and return to it when our journey on it with flesh is over. In the meanwhile the planet is like a merry go round souring through space. It’s our ancestor and such the dirt is our ancestor. It’s from which all life as we know it on dry land springs. So how could this thing (dirt) that hosts our life, not govern the laws of how things work?

 

The earth is like a womb. If you plant something in there, it will try to grow it. Dirt doesn’t care what you put in it, it just helps to grow whatever seed is planted. But it won’t grow anything that isn’t planted, and it won’t change the property of the seed once it’s there (you will not get a watermelon from a carrot seed). If you don’t care about the garden and don’t tend to it, you are going to get a mish mash of what nature throws at it.  

Dirt doesn’t do anything alone in and of itself. Neither does a seed. But put them together and nurture them with water, sun, and even wind that carries seeds and removes the leaves that are no longer needing the soil’s nutrient and WHALA!… Suddenly something is created out of seemingly nothing. Like a baby. Like our thoughts.

Thoughts are like seeds. Our consciousness is like the dirt. We plant, give those thoughts attention (sun/water) and the thought grows and shapes our reality. While it may sound a bit “new-agey” (there is a lot to it that is), there are also some simple truths that most people who grumble at new-age would agree to.

In the month of May and earlier in June since it was planting season, in New England; while teaching my yoga classes I used quotes around this concept and started my classes with the following poem.

 

Watch your thoughts

For they will become your words

Watch your words

For they will become your actions

Watch your actions

For they will become your habits

Watch your habits

For they will become your character

Watch your character

For it will become your destiny

 

After savasana (final resting pose for the non-yogis out there) when the class sits up and meets me in the seated position where we started, after a few closing lines I ended class with the quote: “The ancestor of every action is a thought”.

In essence if we catch our thoughts before they become actions and ensure that they are thoughts we want to have – we will be planting words, actions, habits and the character that we desire rather than living a life based on whatever nature threw at us and we blindly just ingest as what is. We become co-creators of our reality rather than passive receivers of other people’s thoughts.

 

You have the opportunity to create the garden you desire, just know that weeds and nature are inevitable.

When weeds grow we don’t cry about it. We don’t pound our fists to our chests and demand an answer from the heavens asking “Why me”. We don’t get mad at the weeds, think the garden is cursed, or that there is something wrong with it. It’s life. It’s a natural law. The same goes for us. Life is going to throw us curve balls. Things are going to happen that we will not like. It doesn’t mean we are cursed. We can’t blame anyone else for what happened that we don’t like. It’s life. But we can control how we react to it. We can either leave the weeds there and let them take over our beautiful garden, or we can work to remove them as necessary to create the garden (aka life) we want. You can’t clean your house once and expect it to stay clean forever. You can’t weed once and expect nothing will grow back. And you can’t have a perfect life one moment and expect that the next life won’t throw something right back at you to mess up that perfection. It’s not how universal law works.

 

The garden needs a little bit of what we consider good and bad to adapt, grow, and withstand (sun, rain, wind).

In life we need a little bit of good and bad to grow, learn, adapt and become stronger. A charmed easy life is not one worth living. A lot of people would disagree with that statement, but all life, including ours as humans; thrives by being challenged, overcoming barriers, and learning. It’s one of the few ways that help us to feel alive and satisfied.

 

The sooner you deal with weeds, the better. The deeper you pluck & the more you tend to the unruly (weeds, branches, vines), the more beauty you are seeking will be free to proliferate.

The quicker you pull the tiny weeds, the less likely they will interfere with your well-balanced eco-system. Even if it’s microscopic, if it’s hurting the invisible bacteria and germs; it will have an adverse affect. A beautiful vine? It looks nice up until the point it’s either pulling down your fence or choking other plants, crops or bushes that you would like to thrive. We can use these things (weeds, vines, etc) when we need them, as long as we are aware of their nature, keep them at bay, and use them for the good you want in your life (like drugs, alcohol, the partying type friends, etc). Problems that are not dealt with in life generally grow. What starts out in a relationship as any kind of a little “weed” will only continue to grow if it isn’t brought to attention and removed. Without tending to it, it may create a breeding ground for more weeds that grow… eventually destroying all we initially set out to create something beautiful.

Additionally, the deeper you remove unwanted root systems; the more prolific life you will see above the ground. Perhaps the deeper into the conscious we seek to remove negative, habitual thought patterns that don’t serve us or won’t assist in creating the life we want; the less likely there will be any adverse, even microscopic effect on our actions, habits, character, etc.

 

It can be difficult to tell weeds from the good stuff if you don’t have experience, a natural born eye for it (which is rare), or just don’t care.

For anyone who doesn’t get out in the dirt often, when you plant something, weeds mimic what the plant looks like almost from a seedling to maturity. To the untrained eye it’s hard to tell which is the weed and which is the plant. At some point the weeds replicate and take over the plant when unattended. If the plant even stays alive, it’s chances of thriving to it’s fullest potential grow smaller with each passing day. The weed is competing underground for nutrients and water, it might grow taller or in such a way that it blocks out the sun’s rays, or it may eventually choke parts or all of the plant.

It’s hard to tell good people from bad people. They all initially behave the same. But if you are looking, there are subtle signals and signs that alert us how to determine who has good intentions and who does not. Just look closely, their intentions are right there on their shoulders and in their eyes. We can actually see if the person is feeding the little angel or little devil sitting on each shoulder like the cartoons used to show back in the day.

 

While things may look the same and come from the same place they aren’t. It’s not the same leaf on the tree that was there last year.

The exact leaf on that exact tree is not the same one from last year. A whole lot could have happened to that tree from last year. It could have gotten a disease it’s spreading, weeds might have taken over it, something underground might be transmitting in a different way and harming the rest of the garden. You don’t know. People do change too. It might look like the same person you once know, but it might not be. The person you knew might have planted new thoughts and is living a different life. Keep an eye out for those who might be a bad influence and give people second chances as they may be able to better nurture your life and help you thrive in a well-balanced, functioning eco-system.

 

If you do decide to grow something from the start, it consider how it will be nurtured and protected.

Life is going to go on whether we live in it passively or with conscious intention. If you do want to go out and create the garden of your dreams with brand new seeds, you will need to nurture it. Like a baby, new kitten or small puppy; a seedling needs initial outside assistance. At first it needs a lot of attention and careful nurturing. As it grows a little bigger, you don’t have to be as careful when removing the same sized teeny weeds around it because it’s rooted into the ground more deeply and is starting to thrive on it’s own. It needs some regular of attentiveness until it can fully thrive on it’s own and have the ability to recognize the weeds from itself – not fall into peer pressure so to speak. At about this point in my garden my carrots are there. In my life, my 18-year old daughter Gabby and 20-year old son Thomas are pretty much there. But you can’t and shouldn’t leave these newly matured almost proliferating life forms alone for good. If it doesn’t rain for a few days, my carrots are still going to need water if I want carrots this fall. Weeds will still grow around them, although at a much less rapid pace since they aren’t trying to dupe me or the carrots themselves like they were when the carrot seeds just burst forth out of the ground. I still need to ensure vines don’t grow from out of the woods into the carrot patch. I still need to let Thomas and Gabrielle know I’m there if they have questions, need advice or start to flounder from the elements they aren’t used to weathering on their own just yet. Even fully-grown mature adults need love, validation and nurturing from other humans to thrive and put forth fruit in the world; albeit, much less than babies, adolescents and young adults. Those full grown plants in the garden can be left on their own most of the time to fight the elements and create their fruits, just like us fully grown humans. However with some love, nurturing and attention; it only makes it easier for us to thrive, provides us with more of a fighting chance to survive, and helps make our fruits all that much sweeter. The inherent properties of the dirt and us as creatures walking the dirt are mostly the same.

Of course things will grow without attention, love, or nurturing… – thrive and be fine. But in the absence of these things; the odds of growing to maturity, producing bountiful vitamin- rich fruits, and being a contributing member to the surrounding ecosystem are far less.

 

It’s so much easier to see the beauty in life when you care about something enough to tend to it, see the fine details of it, and also take a step back to appreciate it as a whole.

This seems like the most obvious but hardest lesson of all. I didn’t appreciate my garden until I was able to tend to it. I wanted it, but it was a source of stress and felt like a chore. We all want a lot of things we can’t tend to. Life isn’t endless, and our brains and bodies have a capacity to only deal with so much. There are however endless possibilities to pursue. You can try to pursue them all, but you will not succeed. You can’t tend and nurture too many things. Those things will not get the attention they deserve if your proverbial plate is too full. Whether it’s your garden, job, pets, kids, friends, partner, hobbies; whatever. If you can’t love it properly or in the way that you want it to love you back (a partner, a pet, or even the way the garden looks or produces) – don’t take it on. You won’t appreciate it and it won’t appreciate you. Sure you can pass the duties off to someone else like a pet sitter, babysitter, landscaper…. but it’s not really yours then. Without knowing the intimate details of it you don’t appreciate it or feel pride in its success in the same way as when you are putting the work in yourself.

Too many things on our plates often cause unnecessary stress – and who wants that? Even stepping back and looking at the big picture, we immediately notice at first blush which things have had the fine details tended to and which seem unloved. It’s HARD to slow down and only focus on a few things. Life steers us to do the opposite. I myself have cut my hours back in and attention the business world and took two part-time jobs teaching yoga and taking care of our rental home. My life is slower, I know all the fine details of these things, I see the results in my family and my life. I could not be more appreciative and have more pride in these fewer things than I was trying to juggle before. .

 

The more time you spend in nature, the more you feel connected to it, which only enhances and enriches your experience in life.

Get outside. Feel the wind in your lungs – the temperature of that air, the depth of the breath, where into your body you are breathing (belly, ribs, chest…. or somewhere else). Put your feet on the earth (gasp… may without shoes?) & feel that connection. Swim in the natural water. Turn off your music and listen to the birds, the wind, the crickets, that doggie bark in the distance…

Myriads of indisputable evidence show that stress is lowered when we connect with nature. The answer to every quandary is right there when we tune down the monkey chatter in our mind and listen to the quiet teacher inside of us. That quiet teacher is connected with our universe, which is governed by the universal principles of nature. It’s our friend and mother. We “appled from it” as Watts said. We carry the same qualities it does.

Shhh….. just listen and find the way to happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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