Violets, Weeding and Fear

This year, violets have overtaken my garden. From just a few in one area of my garden last year I now find these seemingly dainty plants with their heart shaped leaves throughout my garden. I have learned that they spread by rhizomes, or underground roots.

I started gardening only a few years ago and still have much to learn about all aspects of caretaking plants successfully. Before embarking on this relatively new life venture, I had assumed that planting the seeds and making sure that they sprout was the most important and challenging tasks in tending a garden. But after a few seasons, I have discovered that weeding out what one does not want in the garden is almost as important.

In some ways, our thoughts and intentions are not that different from the plants in our garden. Some intentions we have, like goals we set or paths we are trying to follow, are seeds that we plant that need tending and care. Then there are those “weed thoughts” that pop up in our mind that we often do not even know where they came from. Often, they can be linked patterns like underground rhizomes that proliferate and spread. Fear can be one of these.

Sometimes we have good cause to be fearful of a situation or person and fear helps to keep us safe. We do need fear to survive. But frequently it can happen that a single fear or fearful situation (like a single violet) can insinuate itself into our soil such that it spreads below our surface level of awareness and we may find ourselves feeling fearful in situations or circumstances when such fear is not needed.

Let me give you a personal example. My mother was a Depression-era child and even as an adult living in Riverside, Connecticut, she was frequently fearful that the stock market would crash again such that she would not have enough money to live. When my parents got divorced, every month she was fearful my father would not pay her the alimony check.  Her understandable fears from childhood never left her and in fact seemed to grow over time. I had to often reassure her that we had enough money to survive.

Such strong emotions – like underground roots – can eventually spread to the family, community and beyond. My sister and I are both marked by her fears of poverty and lack of financial resources and these fears have probably impacted our life choices as well as hers.

This fear in our family is quite minor compared to the kinds of experiences that other members of the United States community have suffered for centuries. The still ongoing, insidious acts that have been waged against the Native Americans, our horrific legacy of slavery and racism, the long periods of Asian exclusion, and so many other such examples must surely create rhizomes of fear and anger, frustration and despair.

As I write this, my fingers are scratched and bleeding in spots from yanking out some of the violets in my garden. I was trying to reach deep into the earth to get their roots out as well. It is hard work. Even harder is digging out the roots of some of our collective fears. Such fears, of course, impact our lives and health in many ways and at many levels.

In two days, on June 19th, the United State will officially honor Juneteenth as a national holiday for the first time. May this official recognition and the ceremonies and events held throughout the nation on this day contribute to extirpating legacies of racism and continuing patterns of exclusion and prejudice.

It has been said that when a certain plant proliferates in a garden one year, it may be because this plant is needed medicinally. Checking on the herbal properties of violet, I found that violet has several important ways that it can facilitate health and healing.  One area of special note is the following: “Violet excels at clearing blockages, whether lymphatic, hepatic, or emotional. It… allows us to sort our way through frustration, anger, and irritability to the wound that lies beneath. In a practical sense, this means that Violet is an excellent nervine to take when grief caused tension or irritability is clouding our perception and thus impeding our ability to heal from the grief.”  (Kiva Rose Hardin,

Maybe those many violets in my garden are not so bad after all. Perhaps we need the healing that violet can help induce nationally and at a community level to heal from so much grief in order that all of us – whatever the color of our skin, the language that we speak or the way we look or act – can live without fear.

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