On Therapy and Weeding

Is this what therapy is about — just removing what is holding us back, what stops us growing properly, what hides our beauty and is sometimes downright painful? Well, if nothing was planted in the first place, then removing the weeds would only make room for more weeds…

I have been living with my grief and looking after my toddler simultaneously this week — in the garden. Now, I am not a natural gardener. I prefer my contact with nature wild, and I never seem to have the time, inclination, or let’s face it, ability, to tend anything regularly. All my houseplants die and so would my pets if I had any. But we have a beautiful, wildish, fascinating garden thanks to my partner. And I have only just discovered how much I love pulling out the weeds.

While pulling away at the nettles today, thoughts started to come to mind. In fact I started to divide the world — which is one of my mind’s favourite habits. There are some people, I thought, who love designing things, visualising, making something out of nothing. They choose the way they want to live, taking into account the place they are, the soil, the weather. In fact if the soil and the weather are not fitting, these people probably just move! I imagined these people as therapists, for themselves or others, bringing out possibilities, painting bright futures with a big brush. Then methodically carrying out their plans. Their satisfaction growing as the plants do, as their idea comes to fruition.

Then I turned my attention to myself, down in the dirt with a pair of rubber gloves on, grappling with that absolutely omnipresent ground elder (the commonest weed in the garden) and the nettles which my daughter had sat in earlier in the day with a howl of outrage. I could only see the ground elder and the nettles, although my nose was inches away from the roses. In fact whenever I close my eyes at the moment I see ground elder and nettles. And I thought that this was a great kind of therapy as well — that just removing the useless plants which are choking the ones you want is often the most useful work you can do in a garden. They come back again of course, but each time they are easier to remove. It becomes a habit, a really satisfying habit.

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This is what therapy is about, I thought, just removing what is holding us back, what stops us growing properly, what hides our beauty and is sometimes downright painful. Then I thought — well, if nothing was planted in the first place, then removing the weeds would only make room for more weeds. So maybe my dividing up of the world was not so clever after all, and in fact what is needed in the garden, the world, and in therapy (which is no more or less than the art of helping us grow better when we’ve run into difficulties) is a bit of both sides, the planning and visualising and tender care side, and also the side which is just willing to focus blindly on the rubbish, to search and destroy.

At the moment I feel very close to the ground; it is not easy for me to plan, or to remember. I might plan something quite wonderful and overlook a really obvious flaw. But I am very good, at the moment, at being right where I am, feeling how I feel, and dealing with what is right in front of my nose. It is that sort of time in my life. That is necessary as well. And the weeding is really helping.

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