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Posts Tagged ‘habits’

Well, here I am musing about weeds again.  Sitting in the soil in the early morning while the catbird chatters away in the top of the oak tree and the daddy bluebird explores the bird house at the far end of the garden– weeding becomes a meditative chore for me.

Now, I’ve been called a “Loony” and “Nuts” about weeding and JR might chime in with “OCD”….  I do take my time.  Some years ago, my women’s morning Bible Study decided to meet at our different homes during the summer, and stay to work together out in our flower beds.  While the other women zipped through a section of someone’s perennial garden, I plunked myself down and thoughtfully and slowly pulled out each individual stray, unwanted sprout of clover or dandelion with my fingertips, careful to extract the entire root.  This is an inefficient way to get things done if what you want is a tidy-looking garden in a short amount of time so you can move on to other chores.  But  to me, it feels like an intimate encounter with the earth and what springs from the earth.  It’s the way that I weed, and I laughed at myself along with the others at what little comparable progress I made.  But I was thorough 🙂

So, musing in the morning, sitting in the dirt with my weed bucket by my side, I wonder about weeds.  If a newly germinated sprout is nipped off at ground level, that is usually the end of it.  Without its leaves to produce sugars for the newly forming roots, the the tender new white root will wither.  But with established roots which have stored nutrients, nipping off what shows above ground only strengthens the root to produce more shoots, and the weed grows stronger.  We think we’re weeding when we pull off the visible shoots, and once the green is gone, imagine we are weed-free.  We all know that roots exist, but it’s easy to forget about what we can’t actually see.

[Radish seeds sprouting…  WARNING:  Banjo music…]

Do you see where I’m going with this?  I’m thinking about establishing good habits as well as eliminating bad ones.  A strong plant needs both strong roots and healthy leaves.  Down in the dark dirt, it takes awhile for fragile new growth cells to mature into hardened roots capable of sustaining the top growth.  While that is happening, the visible leaves are delicate and the life of the plant is vulnerable.  Tamper with the young sprout too much and you’ll need to start over with a new seed.  Or, by not carefully protecting and nourishing a new “good’ habit, we risk never developing the rootedness it needs to take hold in our life.

I’m trying to develop a habit of reading and praying a psalm every night before I fall asleep.  For now, I need to be consciously deliberate to make this choice each night, whether I feel like it or not.  By protecting this tender new “leaf”, I’m allowing the roots to form and become a steady part of my life.  I like how Jacques Maritain (1882-1973 — French Catholic philosopher I was introduced to in college) characterizes the notion of Habit in his obscure and esoteric book Art and Scholasticism“Habits are interior growths of spontaneous life…”  He describes it as an attitude or quality of mind; ” a virtue which triumphs over the original indetermination of the intellective faculty…”  In other words, by intentionally and repeatedly cultivating a certain activity, it becomes a part of one’s being.

In the same way, we can let bad habits take hold by forgetting about their roots, which are continually  maturing in the dark, while we don’t bother too much about the little leaves.  If we nip a new “bad” habit in the bud, as it were, the root may never gain a foot-hold.  But if we ignore what is sprouting, the root grows deeper.  Once a bad habit is established, we will need to deal with the root if we are to eliminate it completely; trying to pluck off “leaves” will never do the trick.  This is the essence of true repentance, to bring the root of our motivation up into Christ’s light.

As I prepare to go sit in the dirt again today, I consider:  What gardener wouldn’t love a weed-free garden!  Well, it takes work.  And with diligence, I can hope my gardens might be mostly weed-free 🙂

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Maybe it’s just that time of year … .. because here I am thinking about weeds again.

In a few more months, weeding is a lazy chore, done on a stroll through the gardens picking out the wayward dandelion.  I keep an old bucket handy to take on my strolls then, and by August, it rarely gets full enough of weeds to bother walking over to the compost pile.  The vegetable boxes are the same, simple to pluck out an unwanted straggler whenever I’m out picking beans or checking the tassels on the corn.  It’s a quiet, pleasant activity:  A warm evening, a light breeze, a tall glass of iced mint tea, taking a few moments to sit in the cool grass and tidy up the edges of a flower bed.

Not now.  This time of year I am frantic.  In Vermont, we get one, maybe two,  good days of spring.  It is cold, bare, frozen, snow still on the ground; and then the rain comes, things begin stirring, the leaves pop out; then POW! everything is growing like weeds and the chores multiply, and it’s summer already!  So, I’m frantic.   Especially this spring.

Usually I manage to keep the gardens FAIRLY under control;  but last summer– gardening simply didn’t happen.  Everything thrived on neglect.  Physically, struggling with the set-back of a case of Belll’s Palsy (a neuro-muscular affliction), I simply couldn’t do it all, so it didn’t get done.  Nothing got mulched, nothing got dead-headed, nothing got weeded, and this year, OH MY!  Last summer’s bare soil received every spore on the wind, every dropped seed case, every unchecked rhizome, and now the natural process of sprouting has taken over.  And that means lots of little baby clover, violets, feverfew, dandelions, and poppies!

prolific poppy weeds

I keep a little patch of annual self-seeding poppies between the Star-gazer  and the Madonna lilies.  By prudent dead-heading and then judicious sprinkling of the tiny black seeds, I can keep the patch just about right.  And what happens in that unfortunate season when there is no dead-heading, prudent or otherwise?  Why of course the prolific seeds profligate and I now have poppies emerging like a carpet throughout my entire un-mulched garden.  Yikes!  And I need to get my vegetable boxes ready for planting and divide the daylilies and get the roses fed and mulched and the perennials are growing a foot per day and soon I won’t be able to manage a trowel between them let alone a scuffle-hoe, and there-are-all-these-poppies-growing-everywhere!!

Oh, Father,  I pray as I work at subverting the plethora of poppies without  harming the surrounding perennials, is my soul, left untended, so easily subject to being overtaken by bad habits?  Do tiny seeds find a place to land when I neglect (or refuse) to prune away that which I suspect is undesirable?    I recognize a tendency in myself to make excuses and slide into denial about certain habits that are probably not good for me.  One, for example.  Sometimes it is comforting and relaxing to snuggle on the couch with JR after a long day and disentangle from the busy-ness by watching a movie or a recorded show.  Perhaps nothing wrong with that, but I have been avoiding the conviction of too easily turning to violent action dramas and ignoring the disquieting impact in the deep, pure places of my own soul.  I try to convince myself that it isn’t so bad.  But somewhere, deep down, I know.   And the more I ignore it, the easier it becomes to fall into the unhealthy habit.  There are others, of course.  The extra cookies.  Staying up too late.  Sleeping in too late.  Too convenient little white lies.  And these are just the ones I care to mention.  I have left the lovely garden of my soul untended in this way…  Oh, Lord, that I would have the same passion that I employ on my undesirable poppies to let You root out the weeds of my own self-deception and self-indulgence.  Tiny seeds can grow into a mess of big weeds.  I plan to be on my hands and knees out there tomorrow morning, taking care of that carpet of unwanted seedlings.  And I’ll be trying to pay attention to my choices this evening.   I know there are bigger and harder battles, but this is where I am being convicted, just today as I think about weeds.   At least right now my weeding trowel will do the trick.   I won’t need to get out the spade, or pick-ax, like we used on the old tree stump last year.

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