“Meditative thinking does not just happen by itself any more than does calculative thinking. At times it requires a greater effort. It demands more practice. It is in need of ever more delicate care than any other genuine craft. But it must also be able to bide its time to await, as does the farmer, whether the seed will come up and ripen.”
It’s no coincidence that philosophers, sages, and poets have found such fertile ground in the use of farming related metaphors to express underlying truths about life. Working on farms allowed me to place the inward processes of the spiritual life in a new perspective.
There is perhaps no more frequent and cumbersome task (on a farm that doesn’t use herbicide) than weeding. I spent hours bent over, picking at the soil, trying to uproot invasive plants so the crops we were growing might live. Spending so much effort on this provided ample time to observe and ask questions.
For example, what exactly is a weed? That word carried such negative connotations that it’s hard to see “weeds” as just plants who happen to grow in a place where we don’t want them.
It’s no wonder they take root in our crop beds- good soil and regular watering would be any plant’s dream! Our response is to try and annihilate them, when we would be quite happy to let them grow if they were a bit more tasty or useful to us.
Digging them up, however, proveds to be very difficult, as they often find ways of rooting themselves deep in the ground, ensuring that even if we chop off their heads, they’ll be able to regrow. Some have shallower roots, but require more strength to dislodge.
Sometimes, certain issues are fairly obvious to spot, and with a single heave-ho, we may finds ourselves free of a source of pain. But more often, when we start introspecting, we find that everything is connected with everything else, and that once we start pulling up one thing, we see how it has intertwined with everything around it. With care, over time, we can remove neurosis-weeds, but it often happens that we are assailed by the same unconscious patterns or behavior time and again because we have failed to locate their true source.
For me, in this new transition to fatherhood, I’ve noticed how the ‘root’ of most of my anxiety stems from resistance to what is. The fact is that in this moment, much of my time is consumed with taking care of very practical, repetitive tasks (laundry, cooking, etc.). If I think to myself, “I’d like to be writing now” or “when am I going to get some ‘me’ time?”, discomfort arises. Yet no matter how many times I remind myself simply to be present for what is needed in this moment, these little voices continue to arise.
Weeding can be disheartening for precisely this reason- the weeds always seem to grow back, if not in one place, then in another. But the true framer (of soil or awareness) will perform this task as many times as necessasry, knowing that even some effort will allow the crops we do want to bloosom a better shot at growing.
And yes, the hands will get dirty in this process. There’s no avoiding this, unless you want to dump chemicals on the fields and threaten everything that grows. Similarly, many people would just prefer to numb themselves against what hurts or what is difficult, not realizing that we diminish our capacity to feel happiness when we try to avoid feeling pain. You can’t numb selectively, just as (without genetic engineering) you can’t kill specific plants.
After we finish pulling out these “pests” is perhaps the most interesting part of the process: with time, the pile of weeds will decompose and provide compost for growing food.
The same nutrients and energy which went into the weeds while they annoyed us will become fertilizer for something which has nourishing value. In my case as a new father, hearing the voice of ego clamoring for things to be other than what they are becomes a reminder to tune into what is in front of me.
Like planting a seed, the process is not instantaneous, as we would hope, but it’s only by biding time that any garden will provide bountiful sustenance.