To weed or knotweed—Let ‘em grow?

 Weeding my garden today leads to some questions about weeds. In fact surrounding the basil, tomatoes and orach, most of what I saw was edible although we call them weeds— lambsquarters, sour clover, dandelions. Weeds are a decision we have made.   We develop plants that have special qualities—basil, for example, and we get rid of everything that is notBasil. 


Yet if we foraged these weeds we would have a meal. Dandelion greens for example have a nutrient quality close to liver. Lambquarters are used in Indian curries. The leaves taste like spinach and its seeds are a grain substitute.  Napoleon’s army survived on the seeds in lean times. Orach, a red leafy plant cultivated by the colonists, is a relative of lambsquarters; and they look a little alike.  One is a weed in this country and one is not.


We make choices to cultivate certain things about or within ourselves. My wife for example has naturally curly hair, like Peppermint Patty in Peanuts.  When she lets it grow untamed, all of us, my daughters and myself, think it looks great. She, however, isn’t as fond of it that way.  She grew up in the Peggy Lipton (Mod Squad) straight haired hippie era and that is what she prefers— straight hair, and she works to keep it that way. 

We have personal qualities we like, so we cultivate the ones we like and we weed out the ones we don’t like. Maybe I am bright but want to be more open hearted. I’m quiet and want to be outspoken. I don’t want to be so angry or anxious. I want to be kinder to myself and others, or more self-disciplined. So we’re always working on weeding our garden, but I wonder sometimes: what would happen if we stopped?  What  would happen if we let the garden grow?

I like my hair long for example, but at my age it thins. If one values neat and trim, I need to get it cut. But during the pandemic,  I’ve just been letting it grow, and I like the wild and slightly unkempt look. However, my daughter, Laurel, the other day suggested that she was willing to do a haircut, so she’s not so fond of it. In fact, she thinks I should get it all cut off. Ultimately, we don’t know what are the weeds in our life and what is not.

Knotweed is considered as the name suggests, a weed, but Laurel harvests it and it tastes like asparagus or rhubarb.

So in our life, what are the things we cultivate and what not.  We cultivate a job because it is productive, but maybe there are things around it that could be more important to our life, that we don’t pay attention to. Maybe these are the things, the weeds, that we really need to sustain our life. Americans, particularly, are focused on “productivity” and “economics” and often neglect things that are more important to one’s life.  We put a lot of effort in to producing the vegetables we want, when there may be “weeds” nearby that will give us what we need with less effort. It is probably the puritan work effort engrained in us, but we choose the hard path over the easy, assuming the hard path will be more “productive.”

There is a story about a Taoist farmer. He had a prize horse, but it ran away. All the villagers rushed to him  to tell him how sorry they were that he lost his horse and what a misfortune it was. All the farmer said was, “Is that so?”. The next day the horse returns with two other horses.  And all the villagers rush to him and say, “how wonderful.“ The farmer asks, “Is that so?” The next day his son is in the farmyard trying to tame one of the horses, and he gets thrown and breaks his legs. Of course, all the villages rush to the farmer and say, “how terrible!““Is that so?” the farmer replies. Several days later the army marches through town conscripting young men for the war, but his son can’t go. And again all the villagers rush to him and say, “how wonderful.“ “Is that so?”

What are weeds and what are not weeds? Sometimes, I will have plants in my garden I am uncertain of, so I will let them keep growing, so I can find what they are, what they will turn into. Sometimes random plants grow into squash or tomatoes.  Sometimes to find out what happens–without deciding too quickly what is good and what is not–we need to let things grow. A confession, however—I did weed one garden and I left the other to grow. 

What do you want to let grow today?

We are “already complete.”


“One by one, each thing is complete

One by one, each thing has it.

It and dust interpenetrate, it is already apparent in all things.

So without cultivation you are already complete.”


I read this quote once at a zen retreat as I was instructed to by Zen master Dae Kwang and it opened a door in my mind. Without cultivation, I, everyone, is complete. We are always judging ourselves to be short of the mark in some way. As a therapist, people come to me because there’s at least one place in their life that they need to work on to improve themselves, their lives. It is our thinking that leads us to feel this way. We set up ideas of who we should be or how the world should be and then we don’t measure up—we are incomplete. If you go back to the root of the word translated as “sin,” it means to miss the mark, which, of course, assumes there is a mark to miss. And we, as humans, are always missing our mark.  When humans developed the thinking mind, that threw us out of the garden of completeness. Each moment is complete just the way it is, but then we start thinking about it.

This is the starting point of Buddhism.  Gautama looked up at Venus, the morning star, and said,” No problem,” or something like that.

Years later at another retreat I had a deeper experience of that completeness. We were doing a meditative walk in the snow and the line of zen students was snaking up the hill. I looked around at us walking on the snow covered hill, and in the moment it all seemed perfect, complete. And ultimately that is how each moment is,  but our mind is not in the place to receive that. We practice meditation, bioenergetics, yoga, Qi gong, go to therapy and many other things so we can learn to rest in that more and more,  however “without cultivation we are already complete.”

Take a little Maine bike ride with me

Riding my bike today I’m reminded that just by doing something active you enjoy you can feel wonderful. I’m not a fast rider. I’m often left in the dust by most riders. But I ride to enjoy myself and get exercise, not to set records, although there was a time I was working on increasing my personal bests.  So I stop at the sites along the way, Forest Lake, a little waterfall, and orchard and enjoy the moment. There’s so many ways we can feel good and we each have to find what works for us,  whether it’s walking, talking to a friend, yoga, meditation, physical activities of various kinds, making something, hugging a friend, and we can imagine many other things. My favorite is just enjoying a cup of tea with a piece of chocolate. The best thing is really to find something to do to enjoy yourself and do it regularly. This can change our world, make it blossom.


Giving Positive Attention

I got one of the best lessons in the benefits of positive attention from a Montessori teacher named Karen Leavesly . A number of us had started a cooperative Montessori school and the  parents acted as assistant teachers. On one of the days I was there as an assistant teacher, I was helping to get the kids ready for lunch. I didn’t realize I was about to get a major lesson in how much kids respond to positive attention as I watched Karen get the kids started on sitting down just by noting who was in their chair.  She was pointing out, for examples, that is Ben  is in his chair, Kathy is getting her lunch, Mark is getting ready to sit down. They did and other kids followed suit.   I joined in and pretty soon we had 20 kids sitting at the table ready to do lunch.  This experience got my attention on how much you could do just by encouraging the positive direction, the positive movement. Kids respond hungrily to attention and it’s better to give them positive attention now, rather than to wait for them to demand some other kind of attention later.  And the simplest is just a quiet moment with them or a hug. 

It works for adults, as well, including ourselves.  We need to find the positive movements in our lives, the ones that spark something in the people we love or those around us.  For each one of us,  taking a few minutes to be quiet allows us to settle into our experience and sense a movement that feels positive, that feels “right.”  If we place our attention there,  we will move in the direction we  need to go.