The house where I live was built in 1894. It’s a three-story, wood frame, “shotgun house”. The lot is only 30 feet wide and 100 feet deep and luckily the house takes up most of this. My partner and I enjoy a long beautiful deck off the side of the house and I have planted small, manageable gardens out in front of the house and around the perimeter of the backyard. I love spending time in my gardens, putzing here and there, adding new plants or moving existing plants to a new spot in the garden. I have found that getting dirt under my fingernails is certainly a meditation for me.
A few weeks ago we were entertaining a few friends at the house and I had the opportunity to show off my garden. One of our guests, Tom, knows a lot about flowers and gardening and at first I was a little shy in showing it off to him but it turned out that he relished in the variety of the garden. Stopping at one flower bed I pointed to a bunch of plants and I told him that I wasn’t sure what they were – in fact I was convinced that they were weeds – but I liked the flower it produced. The plants grew about a foot tall, with wide long leaves that followed the stem and finished with a tiny bell-shaped blue flower. Tom told me the Latin name of the plant and then said, “Yea, it’s a weed,” and then added, “but if you like the flower, who cares?”
I had to stop and think about this for a moment. How true – that’s really what it all comes down to, right? What do you like? We spend our days going back and forth between, I like this and I don’t like that. If the flower of any plant is appealing to me, why call it a weed? So, I decided to look up the definition of weed and according to Webster, a ‘weed’ is: a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth; especially: one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants. I find it interesting that ‘valued’ and ‘desirable’ are both used in this definition – especially because these two words are subjective and can a have completely different meaning to any two people. It made me think about what I value and what I find desirable. That led me to one of the many traps of the mind – “attraction and aversion” – “good and bad” – “right and wrong.”
All of Life is an expression of Shakti or Prakriti – the energy of creation and nature. The Dandelion is no different than the Rose – the Thistle is no different than the Iris – each is one form; or one expression of the creator – Shakti! Just like you and I! No one thing is better or worse than another. Everything has been created equal. But we want to put labels on things and put them into nice neat categories. We may think that this makes getting through our day a little easier – but really all these judgments slow us down. Why do we need to have an opinion on everything? Why must we have a favorite color, or a favorite place to vacation? Why must we think the driver that just cut in front of us is a bad driver – when in fact, maybe they are rushing to the hospital because their spouse is giving birth!
Shakespeare says through Hamlet; “There is no good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Sometimes it comes down to our intention – a few beers with old friends is a great way to catch up, but drinking a six-pack or more to drown your sorrows because you missed a deadline at work, may not be the best choice. It’s not that you drink beer but why you are drinking the beer. If our intentions are in line with our own nature, then good and bad are mute points and we can begin to stop judging each and every thing that passes in front of us.
One way to stop the madness is to begin by noting to yourself that you are passing judgment as you are in the middle (or maybe even the beginning) of the judgment. Try it. Next time you are in the grocery store for example and you peer into the cart of the person in line behind you – STOP, before you think, ‘Well. No wonder they are…’. Having a judgment about what you see in someone else’s cart is of no use to you. What your judgments do – good or bad – is they begin to tear YOU down because the judgment reflects on how different you are from them. ‘Oh, look at all those vegetables – I should eat more vegetables, no wonder I’m fat.’ Or, ‘look at all those frozen dinners, they are full of sodium, no wonder they are so out of shape.’ Try it! A judgment arises; stop it by saying to yourself, judgment. You may find yourself, during your tour around the grocery store, or your next commute to work, saying judgment, judgment, judgment, judgment…..I was so busy saying judgment to myself the first time I tried this I began to laugh out loud.
Our judgments coincide with our expectations and our expectations are fed by our fears and hopes. We say we hope ‘xzy’ will happen, when in fact, what we are saying is we fear that ‘acb’ will happen instead. We long for pleasure and we shy away from pain. If we can get to a point of non-judgment or non-attachment we can start to move away from the trap of pleasure and pain, good and bad. Now, there are some good reasons to have expectations or to be judgmental – ‘the fire is hot, if I touch it I will get burned’. Judgments on the level of survival are important – but judgments that compare or separate are of little or no use.
There’s a Buddhist story of a man who has an arrow in his eye – this arrow represents a judgment he holds about himself or a situation. In the story he tries to move the arrow slightly to the right in an effort to alleviate the pain – but this does not work, so he moves it to the left, again no relief. The pain caused by the arrow is a reflection of the pain we cause ourselves by holding onto judgments. Really all we need to do is drop the judgment (or pull the arrow from our eye) and the pain will be gone. But, we have a bad habit of growing attached to our judgments – they become so much a part of who we are that we almost forget that they cause us such pain. Lodro Rinzler, in his book “The Buddha Walks Into A Bar…” says is best…. “If you are constantly solidifying strong opinions and expectations, it is just as if you are sticking an arrow in your eye. It is foolish to think that we will find lasting happiness by trying to change things to make them more in line with our desires.”
Drop your opinions and find freedom. Move to the middle road and find spaciousness. See the weeds, wildflowers and roses for what they are – an expression of the creator.