Flowers and Weeds by Getsu San Ku Shin

Posted by on June 30, 2017



Spring.  The word originally described the action of a watch spring, the mechanism designed to spring forth after being held back.  Eventually spring came to also describe the season that follows winter when surging energies arise out of the long stillness.  Here on the Wisconsin farm meadow where I live, one can almost see grasses rising, buds springing forth into leaves and flowers.



Over this past winter, I nursed a spring dream of creating a flower garden in a field that in past years had been home to the farm’s chickens. In the gloom of March, I did what gardeners everywhere do—-I feasted on the brilliant colors in the seed catalogs and ordered a dozen packets of flower seeds destined for many a beautiful vase come August.

Soon my friend and gardening mentor, Mary, became a partner to my dream.  In early May, we gathered our seed packets, sat at the dining room table and stood at the edge of the chicken yard, planning, designing, imagining the transformation of this sizeable field into colorful beds of pleasing shapes, complete with a bench for sitting peacefully in the midst of our creation.

Our gardening dream was born out of a very human impulse to make and to have pleasurable, nourishing, beautiful things and experiences for ourselves and others.  The surging energy that arose in me as our idea took shape matched the spring weather. I was full of joy and inspiration, so ready to be gardening after my own winter’s rest.

But…..what was springing forth in me were ideas, concepts, mental constructs that are born of planning, figuring things out, projecting into the future.  I dearly love this activity of constructing possibilities in my mind.  It seems so right to think things through, to build my conceptual truths and possibilities, turn them over in my mind, chew on them, savor them, hone them into more and more polished versions of MINE.

As the month of May progressed, MY garden plan began to encounter obstacles.  The tiller needed repairs.  Then the spring rains made tilling the soil impossible for days and days.  Other of life’s commitments trumped gardening when the soil finally did dry out.  Day by day, I watched myself succumb to the pressure created by my garden inspiration.  Flower seeds should go into the ground by the end of May yet we were nowhere close to planting by that time. I lay awake at night, getting further tied into knots as the pressure mounted.  As these days of not gardening followed each other, my aversion to the weather, my craving for more energy to prepare the soil under the hot sun mounted.  I watched my anxiety as the process of what to plant, when to plant and where to plant remained fluid and uncertain.  I was caught in a high octane push to have my spring dream manifest.  Exhausting.

All the while I suffered, something else was slowly and quietly becoming clear.  Each May day, as I went out into the fields to do what I could, I began to see that the problem was not the weather or my energy or the heat.  The problem lay in the very act I loved so much, formulating mental constructs that shape my actions.  My garden dream had become an obstacle to planting flowers.

Eventually Mary and I let go of our grand garden scheme. We tilled two long straight rows in a different field and planted a smaller selection of flowers, reserving many of the seed packets for another time.  Even this pared down version of a flower garden has taxed my capacity for working in the hot sun, bent over the long rows.  But now Mary and I tell each other, “We will do what we can, we will see how much can be done, that is all we can do.”  It took awhile to GET it, to recognize and then practice “just this moment,” expecting nothing, going nowhere.  This is a great relief.  Peace in the garden.

As I pull weeds among the poppies and clean the freshly tilled soil of weeds so we can plant sunflower seedlings, I still often find myself leaving the work of my hands for some automatic mental rumination.  But a deeper stronger wisdom, born out of my suffering, brings me back to the warm soil and my sore back, the only place where the actual unfolding of spring planting is taking place, the only place where the idea of “my garden” can transform into “things as they are.”

I smile now when I pass the old chicken yard-cum-flower garden extraordinaire. Its birth and the pain it caused me have been great teachers.  I see how seduced I can be by my own mental creations, how attached I sometimes remain to finding satisfaction in the material world.  I see the suffering I brought on myself when the idea that compelled my spring plans met the truth of life.  I see how easy it would have been to continue believing the fear and judgement I felt, how easy it would have been to act out of that negativity and cause harm to myself and others.

Now that the flowers are all vigorous seedlings, I worry that they will meet a premature end due to drought, deer, moles, or weeds I do not have the stamina to pull.  But I know that the most problematic weeds are those in my mind.  When I feel protectiveness towards the new flowers rise up inside me, I can meet this moment of clinging with an awareness that knows a bit more dispassion for this material realm, the realm of our dreams, the realm where suffering happens.  I can practice pulling the weeds of striving from my mind while I pull weeds from among the flowers.  Moment by moment, flower by flower, pulling the weeds, making a garden.


Photo credit: Wilhelm Rieber

Photo Credit: Flowers & Weeds, Getsu San Ku Shin


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