Yesterday I was listening to the environmental writer, Emma Marris, talking about how little we value nature unless it’s pristine, beautiful, and untouched by humans - except if humans have positively impacted that beauty, of course. It struck me that this is often how we approach our lives (or, this is often how I approach my life anyway).
My antenna clearly tuned into this theme, I started listening to Michael Stone’s Dharma talk ‘Buddhas on Blades of Grass’. In it, he discusses the Buddhist monk, Dongshan, telling his students to ‘go to a place where there are no weeds’. Spoiler alert: there is no such place.
On the surface, we value moments of hardship less than we value moments of comfort and security. We dismiss (and try to forget) the people who negatively impact us, and we move closer towards (and hold in our memory) the people that offer us support and have failed to disappoint. This is a safe and logical strategy. We want to repeat good experiences, we do not want to repeat bad ones. We would always choose comfort over discomfort. We would always choose to tend the flowers and not the weeds.
However, when I start to dig deeper into this thought, I realise that the times when I have been the least comfortable have held the greatest personal meaning for me. Hard times have paved the way for growth, wisdom, resilience, and humility. Moments of crisis are perhaps the times where we are the most easily intimate with our thoughts and feelings, precisely because we cannot escape ourselves, no matter how much we would like to.
Now, I realise this way of thinking has a touch of the ‘ideologicals’ around it. I do not believe crisis is a necessity, and I certainly do not prescribe going through a crisis to achieve its benefit. I also don’t want to place unnecessary emphasis on the pedagogy of ‘struggle’ - life is hard anyway, we don’t want to make it harder, we don’t need to make it harder. We can’t be healthy in a permanent state of struggle, but we could afford to attach more value to those unpleasant times. We could lean into them, rather than turning away. We could attempt to remember with a sense of curiosity and tenderness, instead of hardening (and thus preserving) our untouchable and unknowable hurts.
What is ‘yoga’ if it isn’t the practice of directing our attention? What is ‘practice’ if we only direct our attention towards the things we like?
'Tend' from the Latin tendere, to move towards.
So today, I took a break from frantically trying to pull-up the weeds that I hadn’t given myself time to properly look at. They aren’t going anywhere, even if I do manage to stamp them down temporarily. I sat amongst the dandelions in my garden, a garden that is representative of shame, disappointment and disgust, and tried not doing anything to change it. I might not love the weeds, but up-close, they look like mine and I can practise learning to accept them.