One fine spring morning I stood on the deck as the sun crested the trees. Tucked into the raised beds, cabbages, and leaf lettuce glittered with dew. As if on cue a Mourning Dove landed on the topmost barn gable. I half expected a butterfly to land on my shoulder and say good morning. But a swordlike tuft of green among the perennials caught my eye. More of the dagger-like foliage poked up from behind the soft fronds of native ferns. I grabbed my phone and texted my sister, “The mean girls of the garden are back.”
This diminutive plant is named Star of Bethlehem or ornithogalium umbellatum. The story goes that they are named after the star that guided the wise men to Jesus’ birthplace. But God decided he wanted the star to keep on guiding us. So, he shattered it and scattered it across the earth. Indeed, it does produce small star-shaped white flowers that glow in twilight. I texted my sister again: “How can anything with such a sacred name be such a pest?”
Left unchecked, these diminutive bulbs reproduce underground and starve native plants. Above ground their foliage smothers anything nearby. They spread by bulb and seed so once they are in the garden they’ll roam unchecked. It has earned a place in the United States’ Invasive Plant Atlas and experts advise that, “It is imperative that all bulbs are removed and disposed of…any missed bulb can give rise to a new population.”
Invasive plants like these displace wildlife habitat, create erosion, and mess with water quality. When their foliage dies back in late spring they leave barren earth. Just like the mean girls of teen movies, they are so pretty yet so indifferent to what they destroy.
My phone pinged. My sister texted: “Grr! I’ve got two clumps in my lawn and tomorrow I’m digging them out! Gah!”
I took a step into the bed and ripped out a handful. I felt like a vengeful garden goddess. Until the guilt kicked in. Because, of course, walking through a garden feels serene. There, removed from the thousands of decisions of what gets to live and what doesn’t, you wander down the garden path. Maybe you lean over to smell a rose or rest in the dappled shade on a well-placed bench. Perhaps you even allow your fingers to tickle the native ferns.
But the reality of creating a garden is not an idyll of serenity. For every perfumed rose, dozens of weeds were sacrificed. Anyone who has ever pulled a weed knows the raucous sound as the rooted tendons rip. For every hole dug to plant a native wildflower, tree roots were severed. Add to that the beetles and larvae, earthworms, nematodes and mites, slugs and microbes that are disrupted when we plant, till, or weed. One square meter of healthy garden soil can host up to one billion bacteria that are killed when exposed to the sun.
This tension between the fantasy of a garden versus the dirt-caked-fingernails reality of creating one reminds me of meditation. Or rather, what people tell me they think about meditation. “I just can’t meditate” they’ll say, rolling their eyes and waving their hands as if to shoo me away, “I could never get my mind to just stop.” Trying to stop the mind is about as useless as trying to control every invasive weed. This is where discernment shines; we can choose how to relate to our thoughts. Reacting with irritation can transform into observing with equanimity.
My sister texted me again, “They are such an ongoing maintenance problem in my yard.” I sent her the only emoji that fit—the facepalm.
Wading further into the perennial bed, I set to work. An hour of pulling and digging resulted in a knee high pile. Then I stuffed the weeds—oh yes, I just called the light that guided the wise men a “weed,” so help me God— into a black garbage bag and put it in the sun to kill the bulbs. Otherwise, pitched in the compost or woods they would just travel to some untrammeled wild patch and take over.
I wanted a beautiful garden, that place where you are invited to wander or sit on a well-placed bench. To keep all the good things, the bad stuff had to go. The only thing that balances this brutality is the gardener’s sharpest tool; her discernment.
It was time to figure out if this diminutive plant was really “bad.” The Star of Bethlehem does what it does; grows and flowers and dies and rises again. My thoughts in mediation —and life—do what they do; grow and flower and die and rise again. But with a weeding fork in hand and vision set on spiritual discernment I can look beyond the weeds cooking in the garbage bag. The yogis call this “discriminative discernment” or viveka; an instinctive seeing that moves beyond rational thought and into pure understanding.
Because it’s like this: Innate wisdom is present in the billions of soil bacteria, in the fronds of a native fern, in the weeds that reproduce from the tiniest bit. Most of my life is spent in blocking my access to this wisdom. My judgey thoughts—boom, block. My annoyed feelings—boom, block. My pride—boom, block. But using my viveka, my discernment, removes these blocks and helps me look beyond the surface to see this innate universal wisdom. Then, I can respond as part of the universe instead of fighting it. Even pulling weeds can be a holy act.
So after all, the Star of Bethlehem did guide me. They offered their dying starshine to illuminate my discrimination. Maybe next spring when they pop up again I’ll text my sister. Only this time I’ll say, “The mean girls are back again. Thank God we’re all in this together.”
About the Author:
Gita Brown is a wellness activist, musician, and writer. She is a certified Advanced Integral Yoga® teacher and licensed Yoga for the Special Child® practitioner. Through her “Yoga with Gita courses” and podcast, “The Gita Brown Show,” her mission is to teach her students how to adapt the traditional practices of Yoga to bring more ease, wellness, and joy into everyday life. Gita started Yoga as a teenager, when her love of Yoga grew in tandem with her career as a classical clarinetist and music therapist. For three decades, she has taught Yoga, wellness, and music courses at colleges, schools of music, community schools, private studios, public schools, and hospitals. She is currently finishing final revisions to her memoir. The story is about how she repurposed her wedding vows into a yogic vow to live love as a way of life—a pilgrimage that endured even as her husband and childhood sweetheart battled end-stage alcoholism. She offers Yoga to students of all ages and abilities through online programs and in person at her home studio at Three Dog Farm in Kingston, Massachusetts. Learn more about her services by visiting: https://www.gitabrown.com