The comfort of everyday things
A few years ago, when I was feeling really out of sorts, my psychologist recommended getting out in the garden and pulling up some weeds.
When I told this to a friend, she paused and said-“that’s a really great therapist you’ve got there.”
She’s right! I love my therapist. But is this where we’re at? Do I need to pay somebody to remind me that getting out in the yard and working on something can be therapeutic?
When I say “gardening” or “yard work,” I want to clarify. My yard and garden (when there is one) is scrappy. I’m quite a horrible gardener/yard worker, actually. (I sometimes say half jokingly that I’m a bad Zen person, because I don’t like gardening, sewing, washing dishes or sitting still-all true!)
But it’s all the more reason for me to get out there in my garden, I think-to start in on something that has absolutely no chance of perfection or lasting payoff for me, but will always be scrappy. And to just work on it anyway.
I heard a Zen teacher say recently that we human beings are shockingly bad at living everyday life. We’re shockingly bad at it, anyway, without more or less constant reminders of how to do it. To just be observant and open, and work hard on what’s right in front of our faces, regardless of outcome. To enjoy the simple routine of things; the simple tactile feelings of what we feel; to move simply toward what needs to be done next. To learn to expect nothing more than this.
This week, I headed out again to de-scrap my scrap patch of a front garden. I was waiting for a particularly stressful delivery of paperwork from a FedEx truck, and I thought-well dammit, I’m gonna be out there pulling blackberries up with my hands when the truck pulls up. And I was, and you know-it was ok. I opened the paperwork outside, looked at it under the big arc of the sky, brought it inside the house and left it there, and then went back outside to the blackberries.
This blackberry stuff is the kind of work that nobody else notices. (There are so many blackberries on Vashon Island that even if you work for hours on them, your patch of plantings can look pretty much the same!). My kids, trying to be polite when I told them about it, squinted and said politely that yeah…maybe they noticed a difference.
But I notice it. I notice it now when I pull up to the house, and it changes the way that I walk up to the house. I walk up to it with a little strut that says-this is my house damn it. I have affirmatively claimed it as mine, intractable blackberries and stressful paperwork and all. My life is workable. It is mine to work. I can feel its brambly pull in the palm of my hands.
–Elizabeth Fitterer took the precepts at Puget Sound Zen Center in 2017. She has a couple of kids, a backlog of Sanskrit homework, and she bets she has more phobias and food allergies than you do.