Posted by: chrismaser | October 18, 2009


While I cannot control a circumstance, I can control how I respond to it. I can accept the circumstance, ask what lesson it has to teach me, learn the lesson, and let the circumstance go its way. Otherwise, the lesson makes its appearance once again in another guise but with the same underlying message. The reward for learning the lessons is always a greater joy, freedom, and peace in living life daily as if life were really worth living.

When first Zane and I conceived of and designed the flowerbeds, I could in my mind’s eye see them in spring’s first blooming, summer’s colorful riot, and autumn’s late bouquet. In this garden of the future, everything was perfect. Flowers were planted and grew into the perfect profusion of hue, shape, perfume, form, and spacing, there to return year after year. But that is not how a garden works in real life.

The perennials looked pretty skimpy the first year, so the vacant spots were filled with annuals. Most of the perennials occupied their allotted spaces by the second year, and the garden of my mind’s eye was indeed coming into its own. By the third year, however, some of the plants were crowding one another while others were simply taking over or dying out.

At first I tried to control them, to keep the beds manicured in perfect form. But I soon discovered that not only was I not in control but also I was creating an increasingly labor-intensive situation for myself in which control was slipping ever farther from my grasp.

This situation makes me think of a swimmer who is intent on crossing a river by swimming against its swift and powerful current. Although the river does not tire in its flowing, the swimmer tires from swimming. Just because the swimmer tires when challenging directly the power of the current does not mean the river is uncrossable. It merely means that the swimmer must choose to go with the current to some degree, letting the flow of the river buoy body and soul towards the opposite shore. True, the swimmer will be carried downstream to some extent and will arrive at the river’s far shore.

By giving up trying to control everything in my garden, for example, I have the time to see its overall beauty and proportion rather than focusing primarily on the minuscule imperfections, such as weeds I missed or notches eaten into leaf margins of my rhododendrons by hungry weevils. I can also accept that I will always have more slugs and weevils than I might wish, but therein lies a hidden freedom, which reminds me of a story.

As autumn arrives in a distant monastery, a Zen master tells his disciples to sweep the path because it is being covered with falling leaves. The disciples obey, as disciples are wont to do, and mindfully sweep clean the path of orange and golden leaves. The Zen master comes at eventide and, inspecting the leafless path, tells his disciples to sweep it again the next day because they have not done a perfect job. Again, they carefully sweep the path, and again he tells them to do it over because they have failed a second time to do a perfect job.

Finally, after the third try, one of the disciples asks the Zen master what is wrong with their job of sweeping because, he points out, the path is clean of leaves, whereupon the Zen master reaches up and taps a branch. Five leaves float gently onto the path. “Now,” he says, “the path is perfect.”

There also is a lovely Persian story, which renders a similar lesson. Persian rug weavers of old, although capable of weaving a perfect rug, always inserted a single hidden flaw because to create the perfect rug would be blasphemous since “only Allah is perfect.” In this way, they honored their Higher Power and kept their right size, which is to say that they confirmed their humanity and protected themselves against the neurosis of perfectionism.


Finally, there is the charming story by Shel Silverstein about a circle from which a large, triangular wedge has been cut. The circle, feeling incomplete because it is no longer a circle, goes looking for its missing piece. Being incomplete, however, it can only roll slowly, but it can admire the flowers along the way and chat with butterflies while enjoying the warmth of the sunshine.

The circle does find lots of pieces, but none fit, so it leaves them all alongside the road and keeps searching. Then, one day, it finds a piece that fits exactly. It is so happy to be whole again, but as a perfect circle, it rolls too fast to see the flowers, or visit with the butterflies, or even to feel the gentle warmth of the sun. When the circle realized just how different the world seemed in the dizzying pace of rolling smoothly, it stops, leaves its once-missing piece by the side of the road, and rolls slowly, bumpily along, once again appreciating life.

If I try to control everything in my garden, even the uncontrollable, in an attempt to have what I might think of as perfect order and therefore perfection, I am a prisoner of the need to control through the bars of perfection. By trying to control my garden and all things therein, I become increasingly out of control of myself, which means that my garden becomes more of a frustration and chore than a joy and blessing. I therefore purposefully build a little imperfection into the art of gardening by leaving this weed or that, which helps to maintain my spiritual balance and thus a sense of being in control of myself.

The paradox my garden poses is that to be in control of myself, I must give up trying to control what is outside of myself, the things I cannot control no matter how hard I try. “Everything that grows is flexible,” said Lao Tzu. “All enduring strength is flexible.” So I follow the wise counsel of an old gardener who, observing others carefully labeling their plants, vowed to let the plants identify him. In this way I find that when I give up trying to control the uncontrollable, I become more harmonious and balanced, both as a gardener and a participant in life.


Related Posts:

• The World Is In My Garden–My Garden As Metaphor

• The Gate Of Ecological Consciousness

• I Participate With The Whole World While Working In My Garden

• The Gate Of Social Consciousness

• The Environment Is Our Social Mirror

• The Gate Of Personal Consciousness

• The Gate Of Spiritual Consciousness

• Finding Peace In My Garden

Text © by Chris Maser, 2009; Illustrations © by Leslie Edgington, 2009. All rights reserved.

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If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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