Spring is not just the season for blooming although there’s a lot of that going on around here with wattle, grevilleas, fruit and ornamental trees. My dwarf nectarine is all deep pink blossoms and new green leaves. The blooms on my small grevillea attract the fluttering lightweight of the honeyeater world, the Eastern spinebill, as well as its branch-trampling heavyweight cousin, the wattlebird.
Yet as well as the season of nectar, blossom and growth, spring is also the time for pruning and weeding. Weeds that set up a flash of irritation each time we see that plant which dares to grow in the wrong place! At least it’s the wrong place according to the farmer, gardener or land carer who looks after the patch where it appears. We usually have other intentions about what should occupy that piece of earth.
For some gardeners, especially those interested in organic and biodynamic approaches, a weed can be viewed as a messenger rather than an impostor. The type of weed which appears in our plot usually indicates that the soil in that part of the garden or farm is seeking something which that particular weed supplies. In the case of the oxalis, this might indicate a shortage of calcium and phosphorus, or perhaps iron where dock takes over. It’s a task of discernment then to try to understand what it is that the soil is saying. Yes, you may want to remove the weed but you may also want to contribute what it gives to the soil. You can even make a tea of the particular weed by composting it in liquid to provide what the soil is seeking when it permits that weed to grow.
Spring is also the time for pruning, another task of discernment. How much of this plant should I permit to grow and in which direction? What needs lopping off because it is dead, tired or simply taking over from another plant whose presence I wish to encourage? When is pruning a matter of healing, of restoration, or of aesthetics? We pick up our secateurs and gloves (yes, must remember gloves) and away we go, making choices, shaping and restricting growth, encouraging what we wish to foster and cutting back what we want to remove.
Perhaps it’s the same within our own selves. What are the thoughts which have established themselves against our deepest wishes? I know my own habitual thoughts about inadequacy or lack of confidence can beat a steady refrain. The ‘why don’t I have more of…?’ questions can settle in as quickly as rampant weeds after a day of steady rain until I can’t push open the door of my intention because they’re in the way. These thoughts prevent progress or movement if I do not notice them and weed them out. I could even turn them into a weed tea which will pour a bit of care and discernment—their trace elements—into the soil of my self. Often though, I’m not even aware of the potency of my weedy or rampant thoughts until I let myself grow still, and listen carefully enough to unearth their presence. That’s where contemplation comes in.
There are two practices that I struggle with and never feel as though I ease into them. Practising music is one of them—at the moment I am learning to play a modern lyre—and contemplation is the other. They are both practices which I will probably never find simple. I don’t think I will ever sight-read a difficult piece and find my fingers rippling across the strings. Nor will I easily acquire the stillness and the strength of focus which makes meditation a breeze for some fortunate people. I accept I will never be a really great musician nor a top notch ‘contemplator’, but that’s not the point. There is something about making music, even imperfectly, that delights me.
And although it rarely reaches delight exactly, my imperfect contemplation practice helps me to wrest control of my wandering thoughts and difficult moods and feelings, it helps my relationship with my task in the world proceed a little more easily and consciously. Some part of me knows that I simply must make a place for my attempts, appreciating that even a small effort makes a difference. Practice on the lyre means my fingers grow a little nimbler as I stroke the strings. Those few minutes spent in meditative or contemplative practice change me slowly, almost imperceptibly, but they do make a difference. I can definitely weed and prune more easily; I can feel it.
In the garden, we make decisions about letting in light, allowing growth and restricting weeds. We do it, and sometimes overdo it, until the effect is pleasing to ourselves and perhaps too to the many other beings that people our patch; beings of all kinds. Yet when we neglect either our garden or our consciousness, the weeds can take over or the unwanted branches block out any chance of light. This spring, I’ll keep on pruning and weeding. My scratched hands bear testament to that—must wear gloves, I know! I’ll also keep turning up to the contemplation cushion and trust that I can expand my capacity to observe what’s getting in the way.