Spring is springing and the greenery is growing. Unfortunately at my house that is mainly the green of weeds.
Ah yes, weeds. I can grow them really well, without having to lift a finger. There amongst the couch grass (our front lawn) and the evil agapanthus (we have a mutual disregard) grow dandelions and nettles and prairie grass. And it certainly feels like the weeds have an unfair advantage. If left to themselves they grow taller and stronger and take over the entire garden.
It’s got me thinking about the weeds in my own life, in the form of unwanted thoughts and ways of perceiving myself that can grow out of control if I let them. Some of these weeds have germinated from seeds planted in childhood; some are much more recent and self-sown.
I’d like to use just one example to illustrate this. Lying awake in the deep night, I think about a teaching job I loved, and miss. It may start with a dream, or I may have read something on Facebook about an ex-student that I enjoyed teaching. Soon the weeds of dissatisfaction, guilt or shame twist through my mind. They are reminders of things I didn’t get right, regret over something I said or did. These weeds begin to grow over and around the plants of joy and fulfilment, choking them and hiding them from my mind. They block out the light of all the things I did get right when I was teaching. They distort the truth of who I am.
In the day time, I can see these weeds for what they are. And I know that I need to do something about them. Even though I am a lazy gardener, I want very much to not be controlled by the unwanted plants. I want to re-discover and enjoy the garden of memories. I should be allowed to enjoy a beautiful garden of memories instead of always seeing the weeds.
So how do I go about getting rid of these weeds? Here are some of my gardening tips:
• Identify a specific weed – in this case something I said in annoyance to a particular student that I really wish I had handled differently. Clearly naming it helps remove some of the sting. In this case the name of the weed is mistake, which isn’t as nasty as it first looked.
• Forgiving myself – one of the gardening tools that is essential to use, and to use it as regularly as possible. It is like a weed killer that takes all the strength out of the growth, which will allow for the next step.
• Perspective – looking for the garden underneath. Here I need to remember the times when I really did handle a situation well. When I spoke to a student and said just the right thing. When I exercised patience and a sense of humour. When all along I really had the best interests of one of those kids in my heart, and acted accordingly.
• Planning, pruning and planting – choosing my thoughts when I am able and deliberately looking ahead to the times when the weeds might sprout. By journaling or talking with colleagues, attending counselling or getting the advice of someone I trust, I can slowly change the patterns of my thinking. I can intentionally decide how to see myself, how to speak about my experiences. Like choosing which plants I to grow, I am able to select and focus on specific thoughts and memories.
Of course some weeds, as I pull them, will stubbornly leave their roots behind, and I may have to find myself dealing with these same unhelpful thoughts again and again. That is the unfortunate nature of weeds.
But the great thing about gardening is that persistence really does pay off. I need to confront the weeds of my mind regularly – daily or weekly or as often as they intrude. Eventually the garden that is sometimes hidden will breathe and grow, to spread and blossom and bloom its joy.