There’s an astonishing amount of bamboo in Georgia. Growing up, I equated bamboo with Pandas and pagodas. Bamboo was something found in eastern Asia, not the American south. I was wrong. As Mom and I drove to my chiropractor appointment this morning, we remarked on a fast-growing grove of bamboo on the side of the road. It’s a little bigger each time we pass it.
“It’s a very invasive plant,” Mom remarked. “Like the blackberry bushes.” She was referring to the wild blackberry growing in our backyard. If we aren’t careful it tries to climb through the fence, over the fence, under the fence. My mind wandered, comparing bamboo and blackberries to dandelions. All three plants are hardy and invasive. They will flourish and thrive in the barest conditions. All three are beautiful and supremely useful, and yet, once we stick the label ‘invasive’ on them, they become synonymous with weeds. Pests.
Like thoughts. It’s easy to label certain thoughts or ideas as invasive, particularly spiritual ones. Voices of the conscience that whisper, you shouldn’t be doing that, or you should do this. Voices that suggest maybe we aren’t perfect, maybe there’s something to fix, maybe we don’t know everything.
When something threatens to throw off our structure, our perfect landscaping, it’s natural to react with negativity, to pull out the pruning shears and cut these invasive thoughts back until they’re out of sight. We don’t want them growing through the fence, or over it, or under it.
But ‘invasive’ is not always synonymous with ‘bad.’ Dandelions are one of the most versatile, useful plants in America – brought over intentionally to supply pioneers. It grows quickly, it’s pretty, you can use the leaves in salad, you can make tea with it, you can make wishes on the fluff.
Unfortunately for dandelions, they grow quickly. They spread. And so we spray them with chemicals, hoping to kill them off, to make the environment a hostile one.
It’s easy to do, with uncomfortable thoughts; with recurring ideas that keep pushing up through the dirt, growing four inches overnight. Sometimes they really are weeds. Sometimes they need hacked down. But sometimes the uncomfortable, invasive thoughts – the mental dandelions, the thorny blackberry bushes – sometimes they’re invasive because we ought to pay attention to them, because they’re saying something important. Because they’re useful, or helpful; because if we pay attention to them and use them to their full potential, they will result in spiritual growth.
Sometimes that weed is the voice in the back of our mind saying, you should talk to that person. You should understand their point of view. You may be misreading this situation. Perhaps you’re in the wrong.
Sometimes the invasive weed is actually a life-saving resource. It’s an ongoing process, knowing the differences; learning what to pull, what to cut, what to water, what to keep. Learning what to encourage and what to discourage. But like anyone with a plant, you’ll eventually learn what they need; not all are the same. My pot of mint needs as much sunlight as possible, my blue moss needs shade. My mint needs lightly watered on a daily basis (occasionally it gets coffee. Sometimes I let my coffee cool off accidentally, all right?) and my moss needs to be damp at all times.
However, sometimes a weed really is a weed, and that’s where discernment comes in.
Years ago, I planted a row of fairy rose-bushes along the side of the fence. The roses are ‘fairy’ roses; small, delicate, in varying shades of pink. They’re also surprisingly tough. We cut them back every winter, and every spring they grow three times their previous size, bearing loads of blossoms that I can, on a good year, bring inside. This year is not a good year. The bushes are green and thriving, but the roses are pale, dying just a day or two after they bloom.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized I’d been forgetting to pull the weeds that grow around the base of the bushes. I don’t know what these weeds are – they’re vicious and thick and they grow at an enormous rate, springing up overnight like malignant beanstalks. We’ve had enough rain that I haven’t needed to water the roses, which meant I hadn’t been tending to them every few days. I usually water the roses right after pulling the weeds. Because I hadn’t been watering, I hadn’t been weeding, and the weeds have been growing at an alarming rate, draining the nutrients in the soil needed for the rose bushes.
My own neglect is causing a disappointing bloom this year.
When the sun goes down and the heat fades, I need to put on some gloves and take care of the weed problem. Once they’re pulled out from the root, I should have beautiful roses back within a week or so. They bloom through fall, so there’s plenty of time still left.
That’s the difference. An invasive thought you should tend won’t drain the nutrients from your soil, but feed it. An invasive thought you should root out will leech away your health.
The moral of the story, from a coffee-and-sleep-deprived mind, is pretty simple: you don’t need a green thumb to be a good gardener. All you really need to do is pay attention, to learn the difference between useful-invasive and detrimental-invasive. Sometimes the best lessons, the ones that stay with us, are learned only after our hands are scratched and bleeding from reaching through the thorns.