Our backyard is out in the woods, and over the years I’ve spent a lot of time making improvements: gardens, outbuildings, fences, drainage ditches, ponds, bridges, and the like. Lately, I’ve been evolving into my zero-maintenance phase — also known as my lazy phase — but every once in a while I do like to see something change, and I was in that mood one day as I was crossing the bridge that spans a creek that runs through our yard. As I was on the bridge looking up the creek, I noticed that my usual view of the beaver dam and other sights in that direction were rather obstructed by a collection of shrubs growing from the creek bank.
I walked along the creek for a short distance to inspect this uninvited guest, and I discovered a rather dense growth of small bushes and trees that I had not previously noticed. Having cut hundreds of trees and bushes on our property in the past, this appeared to be no great obstacle, so I walked back to the shed where I keep my “man-equipment” and gathered my assault gear: axe, loppers, machete, chain saw, and so on.
I set to work with my usual enthusiasm and found that these shrubs and trees were thicker than I had thought, and removing them was made more difficult by their location, right at the edge of the creek bank. In order to accomplish my task — hacking away at the branches and trunks with my assortment of blades — I had to stand in a variety of positions: up to my knees in the water and mud of the creek, at precarious angles on the side of the creek, hanging from the branches themselves, and so on. Finally, I swung at a branch with an axe, slipped in the mud, and fell into the creek on my back. I was cold, soaked, and mildly humiliated.
At this point, I experienced an urge to go in the house and watch television. Who needs an unobstructed view of the creek anyway? It would be a lot more work — in the mud, sweat, and dirt — to get rid of all those branches. Besides, in order to do the job right, I’d have to pull a lot of those plants out by the roots, and the roots had proven to be a great deal more, well, rooted, than I had hoped. But if I quit, the wild growth would only continue, and before long, I’d have no view of the creek at all. In fact, in a few years, I wouldn’t even be able to cross the bridge.
I remembered back to the day I purchased that property, twenty-two years before. The woods and blackberries and other shrubs were so densely overgrown that the previous owner had never succeeded in walking more than a hundred feet behind the house. He hadn’t even been aware that a creek existed in his backyard. There’s a small lake bordering our backyard too, and he hadn’t known about that either. So I’m not exaggerating when I say that over time nature would have reclaimed my bridge and everything else in the yard.
If we don’t carefully tend any outdoor space in whatever way we want it kept, nature tends to fill that space in rather quickly. I recently visited some of the Mayan ruins in Mexico and Belize, and it was astonishing to see how that process had occurred there. Although the ancient people in these areas had built enormous and impressive structures and civilizations, once they left an area or died out, within a few hundred years the jungle completely took over and erased all external evidence of the people having ever existed there.
What is natural has a tendency to quickly eliminate what has been planned or organized, and we see this happen with Real Love in a way similar to what we see in civilizations or in the creek in my backyard. Our fears and flaws, and our Getting and Protecting Behaviors — which are natural — tend to sprout like weeds, like unwanted shrubs and trees, in the gardens of our lives, and if left untended, they will literally choke out everything good that we try to build. Continuing the metaphor of the garden, they will eliminate our ability to move and even blot out the light of the sun. If we don’t tend to them regularly, if we don’t identify them and hack at them with all our energy and all the tools we possess, they will naturally fill in every available space and literally choke us to death.
Occasionally the work of eliminating the weeds and shrubs is hard work. We have to get down in the creek where it’s cold and wet and muddy. Sometimes we slip and fall right on our backs. Sometimes we look foolish. But if we quit, the weeds will only grow. In all my years of gardening, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that weeds never take a vacation. Neither do the weeds of our personal lives.
So, understanding all that I’ve said about nature filling in every available space, I got up from my supine position in the creek that day, cold and wet, and I recommenced my work. Swinging an axe and a machete soon returned the warmth and circulation to my body, and before long I was breathing hard and replacing the creek water with sweat. Grabbing a mattock and shovel, I also dug up the roots of all those plants, so they wouldn’t return, in the same way that I try to dig at the roots of my personal flaws — though with less success.
It wasn’t long before I’d cleared a lovely view of the beaver dam and the creek upstream, which I have enjoyed for many days since. Since that time, I have reflected on several occasions that when I work as diligently to remove the “weeds” and other obstructions in my personal life, the rewards are even greater. I would do well to remember this lesson better than I sometimes do.