The Cotton Candy Tree

By Greg Baer M.D.

July 13, 2009

Many years ago I was out in the garden pulling weeds with a couple of our children. At one point my son Joseph asked, “Dad, what makes something a weed?”

I thought that was pretty insightful, especially since none of his siblings had ever asked that question. I replied that a weed was any plant that was growing where it wasn’t wanted, especially where it was interfering with the growth of the plants that were desired. In most cases, I added — because I was tired of pulling them — it seemed that weeds grew much faster than the plants around them. Certainly that was true for the weeds we were pulling that day, which threatened to overwhelm the beets and carrots we were trying to save.

Had we failed to weed the garden that day, we would have lost only a few rows of vegetables. Far more serious are the weeds that infest the gardens of our minds and souls, the weeds that distract us emotionally and spiritually and thereby destroy our happiness. These weeds, which come in the form of Imitation Love and Getting and Protecting Behaviors, grow quickly to the size of bushes and then trees, which take over our entire garden. Moreover, these insidious weed-trees bear a variety of fruits that we thoroughly enjoy — praise, power, pleasure, and safety — so we become quite reluctant to pull them up or cut them down.

Imagine that we’re trying to grow a field of beans and corn, which would create a diet sufficient to sustain our lives. But throughout our field are large trees that have sprung up with little or no conscious effort on our part to plant them or take care of them, and these trees have enormous branches covered with leaves that block out the sunshine needed by our beans and corn. But we are reluctant to cut down these trees, because every branch produces abundant swirls of cotton candy, which is delicious — so delicious, in fact, that we have become addicted to it and cannot live without it, not even for a few hours.

Even though the cotton candy tastes wonderful — no doubt of that — there is simply no nutritious value to it, so slowly we begin to starve to death, no matter how much we eat. If we are to survive, we must cut down the trees, to allow the sunlight to reach our beans and corn. We must tend to the real crops, which requires more effort, but which — in the long term — will save and sustain our lives.

And so it is in real life. Without any effort on our part, the seeds of Imitation Love are planted constantly, and they grow at astonishing rates — like weeds on steroids — bearing abundant fruit all the while. Oh, there’s no doubt that Imitation Love tastes good — just like cotton candy — but soon the weeds become trees that block out the sun and make the growth of Real Love and happiness impossible.

This is why we must tell the truth about the Imitation Love in our lives — and about the Getting and Protecting Behaviors we use to gather it — so we can begin the process of tearing up the weeds that are preventing us from being happy. We must exercise faith that if we give up the cheap and immediate thrills of eating cotton candy, we will harvest an emotional and spiritual feast that will be both nourishing and joyful.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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