Down to Earth Rituals: Weeding your Spirit

My parents have a plentiful yard. When they first moved into this house, the back yard was oak trees and grass. Now it’s landscaped with an abundance of flora that seems to change subtlyover the years. There are at least a dozen hibiscus, a camphor tree, azalea bushes, and quite a few other plants that I can’t identify. Pathos, one of the easiest houseplants to grow, has taken over one oak tree and its leaves have reached terrifying proportions. Perhaps your pathos is more than a houseplant gone wild, but self-pity that has taken hold of your confidence and personal power.

Upkeep of our spiritual gardens is something most of us acknowledge as a necessity but put off — ridding the intentional plants of the unintentional weeds and volunteers is daunting. As in Florida where I currently reside, the climate of your life may nurture weeds that grow rapidly and tenaciously. Rake your fingers just under the mulch and you’ll snag a web of thick strands that have enmeshed themselves steathily under the decaying leaves to spring up and braid their vines along the branches of a soul that should blossom like azalea or hibiscus.

I find great great spiritual comfort in the pulling of physical weeds. My son loves to pull weeds with my mom but even he gets a little weary of all the tugging that will often yield a handful of vine and leaves but no roots. One such persistent invader is walking iris. It looks like gigantic tufts of grass blades. Out of these blade-like leaves, one will shoot out and spawn a small new plant at the end of the tendril that will sprout roots before it even works its way into the ground. These tendrils allow the plant to “walk” its way out to grow wherever it likes. It’s not unattractive, as “filler” plants go. But it does tend to walk its way into places you may not intend. My parents planted one or two very small patches of it and it now has taken over several quadrants of the yard.

Occasionally I have felt moved to do work in the yard. Last time I did a major amount of work, I attempted to rake up all the oak leaves that had fallen since the summer. Live oak leaves are pretty small and the grass I’m raking over isn’t actually real grass, so raking can be tedious and somewhat unsatisfying. You never really get all the leaves and sometimes all that’s left is dirt. Nevertheless, I felt like I’d really done something that day. Today was a day for weeding.

I started off weeding while wearing my daughter in her sling, but she’s grown cumbersome for doing actual physicalwork, even when she’s asleep. After a time, I was able to have my mother hang out with her while I got down to doing some serious weeding. I’d found that, while walking iris seemed to be everywhere, they weren’t difficult to pull out. A firm grasp at the base of a fan of leaves and the earth would release the roots with a satisfying series of pops and deep snaps. Mom showed me what she wanted taken out and I got to it. Her main objective was the clear away the iris from the Aztec grass they’d intentionally planted along the stone path. Iris leaves are narrow, but thick and plentiful enough to overshadow more delicate Aztec grass. As I pulled, I realized my son had gone inside, as had my mom with my daughter. At the same time I realized that this work could become more meaningful than just horticultural. I grounded and connected my center and my psyche with the land I was working.

I pulled up iris. This weed was the boys in junior high who tormented me at my locker and in class. I named the weed aloud and said, “this weed will not grow in my garden.” One handful of leaves would often yield one or two shoots and new, smaller tufts of leaves. This weed was all the issues of Elle and Vogue that taught me to be ever disappointed in my body and my lifestyle. This weed will not grow in my garden. Fans of dark green iris came away to reveal forlorn, underdeveloped blades of Aztec grass — hidden and stunted, but surely able to come back. I filled a garbage bag, hauled it to side of the house and started another. This weed was a boyfriend with whom Ialways felt inadequate. This weed will not grow in my garden. I tackled what seemed to be an enormous single clot of iris. But it came easily away as I pulled a little at a time. This weed was the middle school girls who chased me home one afternoon, taunting me. This weed was the cliques ofpopularkidswho distracted me from truer friends. These weeds will not grow in my garden. Handful after handful Inamed them and gently but firmly pulled their roots from where they were no longer welcome.

Most people tend to distinguish between weeds and desirable plants, but theyre all part of the same system really. Everything we experience in life has equal potential to shape us for good or for ill, but weeds are very much like those experiences in our life that can overrun our thoughts and actions rapidly and insidiously and break down our more productive nature. If left unattended, the weeds of our insecurity and pain can creep up and strangle those parts of us that flower beautifully. Like weeds, these experiences are usually deposited by something other than ourselves, are invasive, and often lay hidden to spread farthest. We are the keepers of our own souls garden. With careful tending, identifying and removing on a regular basis those elements that rob us of energy and nourishment, we can enjoy an inner landscape that reflects ourselves at our strongest and healthiest.

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