Weeds! All summer we are pulling out those “pesky weeds” so our lawns will be closer to “perfect.” Out come those rambunctious dandelions; those spreading wild mints; and those plantain plants with their wide spread leaves. What we want is an immaculate green grass carpet without a tinge of brown or a hint of any so-called invasive plant.
How hard many of us work to achieve this ideal and how disappointed we can be when our lawns do not live up to our expectations.
But it is precisely these so-called “unwanted” plants that enter our gardens uninvited that harbor the greatest potential for healing us, according to Muskagee plant shaman Tis Mal Crow. In fact, in many indigenous healing traditions, it is precisely those plants that spontaneously grow and thrive in our natural local environment – plants we tend to call “weeds” – that are the most powerful.
Tis Mal Crow explains in his wonderful book about plant healing that the precise plants that we need for our healing will arrive and begin to grow in our gardens to help us. He goes on to say that he can even learn about the illnesses a family may experience in the next year by seeing what “weeds” begin to grow outside our house now.
I was discussing this powerful concept with a friend who has a beautiful, spirit-filled garden in Keene the other day. Together we marveled at this almost miraculous gift from nature. We also lamented how much knowledge, wisdom and potential healing help from the plant kingdom may be lost to us when, in our ignorance and disconnect from the natural world, we pull out and, in some cases, even poison, the so-called weeds that grow nearby our houses.
This got me thinking about another type of connection between humans and plants. Another book I read recently called The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic: The Parallel Lives of People as Plants: Keeping the Seeds Alive, by Martin Prechtel has profoundly impacted my perception of the world and relationship with plants. I also had the honor of spending a weekend with Martin Prechtel a few months ago where he honed into the workshop participants the striking similarities and interconnection between the plant kingdom and humans. He also reminded us that the plant world is as alive and feeling as the animal world.
So let me return to the concept of “weeds” once again. And permit me to briefly share a personal story. My father’s second wife was a glamorous and wealthy woman from Milan named Victoria who had a small daughter from a previous marriage named Natalia. Victoria moved to the United States and lived with my father until his death from cancer 27 years ago. Natalia spent a decade being raised by my father, who became in a manner of speaking her surrogate father.
My sister and I were a decade older that Natalia. And we soon learned (as my father did) that Victoria had some very serious addiction and psychological issues, to the point where he kept us away from her. It was a painful situation for my sister and me, and one we did not fully understand. All I knew and felt at that point was that my family situation was far from the “perfect family” I longed for.
And yet having a mysterious Italian stepmother who spoke in a foreign language and exuded a type of allure propelled me into my lifelong travels and cultural studies. It also pushed me from the comfort of my house out into the world, since my house was no longer such a comfortable place to be.
This year, through social media, I was able to reconnect with Natalia, who has lived in Italy for 27 years. We have met in person twice. I learned for the first time the impact my father had upon her, and also the tragic last years of her mother’s life. Glamorous Victoria ended up drinking herself to death in a small apartment, estranged from her daughter and not leaving her bedroom for a decade.
Natalia is now studying to be a counselor, to help others deal with family members who have psychological and addiction issues.
If people are like plants, in a manner of speaking, than we also have our weeds. Those unbidden, often unwanted and unwelcomed, individuals who enter our lives against our will. Sometimes, often, they can be family members. In some cases they may be work colleagues or neighbors. Whoever they may be, we somehow feel that their presence disturbs our concept of “perfection”; we may wish things were different.
But maybe, just maybe, it is these “weed people” whose presence in our lives offers us the greatest opportunity for healing and growth. Perhaps they have entered our lives precisely to help us learn important lessons, to help us move towards wisdom.