Plant Wisely

I have recently been spending a lot of time pulling weeds from the garden. There is an area under the nectarine tree that I have neglected, and the weeds have taken over. They’ve choked out the berries and the rose, and are threatening the newly planted citrus trees. The funny thing is that as I pull the weeds and expose bare ground, I know that it will be very little time until a different set of weeds fills it in. Nature abhors a vacuum, and bare ground is a vacuum.

Weeds are just a human construct for “a plant that I don’t want to grow there.” One person’s weed is another person’s preference. And nature, of course, makes no distinction or account for human preferences.

Once the weeds have been cleared away, I can influence what replaces them. What we cannot do is simply maintain a bare patch of ground– something will fill in the empty space. To prevent the weeds from coming back, the vacuum needs to be filled. I spread into the newly cleared area seeds of plants that I would prefer grow in that area. My hope is that the will germinate and grow, crowding out the weeds that would otherwise fill in the empty space I’ve just cleared. One way or another, the vacuum must be filled. The question, and what I have some control over, is how to fill the area.

As humans, we often identify the weeds in our life. We recognize certain habits, behaviors, or ways of being or not helpful to us, and we resolve to change them. We spend a lot of time, effort, and willpower, pulling these weeds from our life. We decide to stop using alcohol or drugs, although those have been the dominant force in our life. We resolve to no longer work extreme hours or we come to see that a certain job is harmful to us, and we decide we cannot keep doing it. We recognize that certain ways of spending our time are harmful, or that certain ways of interacting with people around us are destructive to our relationships.

The challenge is that as we clear the weeds, we are left with a bare patch of ground. We work hard to uproot the weeds, but often fail to consider what we will plant in their place. We are proud of ourselves for getting the weeding done– for stopping drinking, for working fewer hours, for no longer spending so much time on Netflix– but what do we do instead? What do we plant in the bare ground we have just cleared? If we do not plant anything, and revel in the fact that we have cleared the ground but allow the ground to stay bare, the weeds will come right back.

The goal, after all, is not to have bare ground– nor is the goal to have an absence of weeks. The goal, instead, is to have a garden filled with what we want– flowers, vegetables, whatever it is that you are trying to grow. The weeds inhibit that growth, and clearing the weeds enables it. But the absence of weeds is not really the goal. Rather, the weeds are usually a symptom that we have not planted anything into the empty space, that what we have planted is a poor fit, or that we have not tended the plants we have put in the ground.

As we work to pull weeds, we must also take care to consider what we put in their place. Do we spend our time exercising? With people that love and care about us? Outside? How do we fill the newly cleared space?

Lastly, sometimes we are left with a bare patch of ground not because we have pulled weeds, but for other reasons. Someone important to us passes away, we retire from a long-held job, our kids move out. Life is about change, and there are always new patches of ground that need to be planted.

-Dr. Justin