Sean likes to listen to Alan Watts every Sunday morning on KPFK. This morning I took a break from my weeding to check in on him and see if he wanted a cup of coffee. He said he'd just heard a great quote from Alan Watts -- something like, "Oftentimes, people who meditate seem to be engaged in competetive suffering; meditation should be fun." Sean asked me if I thought of my weeding as a sort of meditation. "You seem to enjoy it," he said. I told him that, strangely enough, I do enjoy weeding, and I suppose it could be a sort of meditation for me. I like changing the look of the landscape; I like clearing away the unwanted and leaving more air and light and water for what is wanted. In particular, I enjoy letting my mind wander all over the place while I work in silence.
Weeding, though, I mostly find humbling. If ever anyone needs to be shown an example of how people cannot control nature, lead that person to my backyard after a winter of benign neglect. I have spent the last couple of weeks clearing thigh-high weeds of all kinds from my small backyard, and I have another week or so of work ahead of me... then I can move onto the front yard. Short of dousing the property with commercial weedkiller (which I will never do, as I regard the use of RoundUp to be akin to chemical warfare), the weeds will always have the upper hand. The best I can hope to do is keep them at bay.
I love the fact that there is actual nature in my backyard -- wild, unfettered nature that I can look at and interact with but never command. Right this very moment, I am watching a squirrel try desperately to get at the bird feeder I have hung from the plum tree. It's not enough for him anymore to eat the seeds that the finches knock from the feeder all over the ground below: he wants to get at the source. He's hanging from the branch by his hind feet, his front paws grasping the long wire from which the feeder is suspended. The feeder is too small to provide a safe landing place if he decides to let go his hind feet, and he knows it. And so he alternates between hanging upside down, reaching, contemplating, and doing gymnastic flips on the branch when he heaves himself back up, defeated and probably dizzy. Meanwhile, the finches flutter about nervously, waiting to get back to their meal. Over and over again it happens, and I get to watch it. I love being able to sit in my suburban L.A. kitchen and see this tiny drama play out. It pretty much makes having a yard full of weeds worth it.
I don't know if Alan Watts would call my quiet enjoyment of this sort of stuff "meditation," but I feel it's good for my soul.