“You must weed your mind as you would weed your garden.” ~Terri Guillemets
I learned about weeds before I learned anything about gardens. For my 40th birthday, my husband built me a beautiful, secure deer fence to make my first garden. Someone advised me to add straw to augment and lighten the heavy clay soil. Unfortunately, what I thought was straw turned out to be hay and seeded itself heartily throughout my new garden. In no time I was completely overwhelmed with weeds that I had inadvertently sown.
Weeks later, after the hay crop was finally removed, I planted several varieties of plants that I was told had “magical” properties that unbeknownst to me were also invasive weeds. Before long, they showed up everywhere in the flower and vegetable beds with their sticky seed pods. So, for many years, gardening and weeding were synonymous. Befriending the weeds along with the flowers not only helped me towards the garden I envisioned but also became a worthy metaphor for working on my marriage.
Even now as I celebrate 35 years of marriage with the same man, I still need to do the work of weeding out the thoughts that pull me away from experiencing the truth of my marriage. Not unlike my garden project, the worst case of weeds comes from a thinking error – from my own error in judgment. Through the decades, the single most threatening conflict to the stability of my marriage has continuously been one that has come from my own mind. Sometimes I can see the judgments about my husband and my marriage coming, but just as often they catch me by surprise. Regardless of their origin, they all lead with a voice that begins with I, me, or mine. And like many of the weeds that filled my garden, this negative thinking pollinates quickly and alters the landscape in my heart in what seems like a moment.
Our thinking errors are a slippery slope. Often before I can see it happening, my perspective on why I stay and what I love is lost, quickly replaced with doubts that I thought I had cut back years before. Not only are my thoughts skewed, but my insight is blinded and I am unable to witness how these toxic thoughts on what my husband doesn’t provide overshadow all that he does. It can become damaging so fast, this decline which is so hurtful to both of us and all that we have worked so hard to build. We spent years with this inner weed dominating the early years of our marriage, almost to its demise.
I spent so much time comparing what I thought should be that I could never really see how things were. I was so wrapped up in thinking about how my husband failed, that I was unable to appreciate the ways that he was giving to me, and the many ways that our marriage truly worked.
Relationships depend on our ability and willingness to befriend our mind and witness our thoughts. Many if not all relationships struggle with the deep inner conflicts that come from comparing what we want to what is, with reality always coming up short. Winning this battle in your own mind is not passive. I remember viscerally the work of turning my mind away from the thoughts that made my relationship unworthy. All the many hours of pulling weeds in the garden was excellent training that taught me that my garden’s failings was also the source of its beauty.
So many relationships end prematurely because we have not learned how to garden and manage the weeds in our own mind. Most of us never learned the critical skill of truly perceiving and accepting the ways that love is coming to them. As I practiced, I was able to expand my sense of what love feels like to include the ways that my husband’s silent presence didn’t leave me alone but actually held me. Year after year, as I got closer to recognizing and experiencing my real relationship, not the one I imagined and pined for, I found we had the room to grow - together. The key was and still is committing to continuous vigilance of our thoughts.
Decades ago, one of our best marriage counselors, Bob, encouraged us to understand that real love could always be found when we hold what we love and what we reject about each other – or ourselves for that matter – side by side. It is in the meeting and the accepting of the good and the bad that we find the truth of our ability to relate, to garden, and to grow into our truest self.