Some of the strongest, most resilient plants are those we often describe as weeds – they seem to have a special ability to thrive in hostile and barren environments. Many have long tap roots which bring up nutrients from deep in the soil, and edible weeds are often particularly nutritious.
When we plant a new lemon tree, we are advised to remove the flowers for the first year or two, so that the tree can put its energy into growing a strong roots system before trying to produce a crop. As gardeners this can require a bit of self-discipline – all those flowers promising delicious lemons, and we’re supposed to take them off and wait another year? Yet we know that if we allow the flowers to grow into fruit too soon after planting, our tree will be vulnerable to all kinds of problems in the future.
One of the challenges of maintaining a regular meditation practice can be that much of the process is more akin to growing deep roots rather than producing hundreds of bright yellow lemons. Zen is well known for its stories and sayings which discourage us from having high expectations about our practice, such as this quote by Shunryu Suzuki:
‘Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine.’
Still, if we meditate for 20 – 30 minutes every day, this is a considerable investment of our time. It’s no wonder we’re keen to see evidence of the ‘fruits’ of the practice in our lives. Yet after the initial honeymoon period, when people often remark how much better they feel when they meditate every day, it’s not uncommon for the practice to become less and less regular.
An ongoing meditation practice can be like establishing a strong root system. It may seem like nothing much changes in our lives. And yet, over the years, our ‘leaves’ may become glossier, we’re more resistant to pests and diseases, we’re less likely to be blown over in a storm, and we are better able to consistently produce a good crop of lemons.
Meditation takes patience, as well as trust in the invisible processes which are happening beneath the soil of our everyday awareness. Yet over time, through our meditation practice we can feel more firmly rooted in our life, just as it is, and like the weeds with their long tap roots, we can learn to draw up nourishment from deep inside.
Set aside some time to walk around your garden or the local park. Notice the plants which are flourishing, and others which seem less healthy. Take a moment to reflect on the complex root systems which are invisible, and the important role they play in the health of plants.