Last year, when I heard the honey bee population was suffering from a mysterious insect-world apocalypse, I decided to offer up my lawn for the cause. I would not drown my dandelions in Round Up nor pry them from the earth with a slim forked garden tool. Instead, I vowed, I would let them flourish and propagate in order to provide nectar for the struggling bees. It would be my sacrifice, my contribution to Earth.
This year, come April, I took one look at the blur of yellow blanketing nearly every inch of my front yard and decided bees be damned. Pulling on my gardening gloves, I grabbed the dandelion plucker from the garage and proceeded to rid my lawn of the noxious weed, one bright bloom at a time.
Three days later my front yard was free of dandelions. I also had a raging case of elbow tendonitis (which would later require a cortisone injection that felt a lot like giving birth out of my elbow, but that’s another story).
While I might not recommend my particular OCD approach to dandelion digging (It’s the Upholder in me. As my husband said, “Do you not understand the concept of moderation?” No, in fact, I do not understand the concept of moderation), I do recommend the habit (or discipline, or practice, or whatever you want to call it) of dandelion digging in general, which comes down to this:
Monotonous physical repetition frees the mind and soul to open, breathe, and rest.
I thought about a lot out there on my knees, scooting from bloom to bloom, pushing the metal prong deep into the moist dirt, wrenching the gnarled, stubborn roots free and tossing them with satisfaction into the metal bin beside me.
I let my mind wander as I listened to the staccato call of the chickadee, the trill of the cardinal, the scamper of the squirrels up the river birch bark. I let my body relax into a rhythm, the cool grass bleeding circles of damp on the knees of my jeans, the plunge and push and pull of my fingernails in the dirt.
Digging dandelions isn’t “spiritual” in the traditional sense. I didn’t pray or ruminate on Bible verses out there on the front lawn. I didn’t do anything, actually (besides dig dandelions). I simply let thoughts come, and then I let them go. I noticed and focused on my environment – the pungent smell of early spring dirt, the fresh scent of new growth high up in the pine boughs, the rise and fall of voices up the street, two neighbors chatting in the morning sun. I let myself be immersed in the sights and sounds and smells of creation, which to me often feels like the best kind of prayer anyway.
It doesn’t need to be dandelion weeding specifically, by the way. Any monotonous, repetitious chore is conducive to this kind of spiritual discipline: folding laundry, washing dishes, raking, Windexing windows, painting the baseboards in your bathroom. The key is to move your body repeatedly and automatically and to let your thoughts come and go.
Try making a habit out of doing your most monotonous chores mindfully. Eventually, you’ll find, your to-do list will recede into the background. You’ll breathe more deeply. And your spirit will feel more at ease.
A Word about the Four Tendencies:
Remember last week when I described Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies? You’ll see, as we dig into these non-traditional spiritual habits over the next few weeks, that some will be more conducive to particular Tendencies than others.
The spiritual habit of digging dandelions (or doing monotonous chores mindfully), for example, will probably work well for an Upholder (because we respond well to both inner — “Practicing mindfulness will be good for me” — and outer — “My neighbors will appreciate a dandelion-free lawn” — expectations) and the Obliger (who feels accountable to others…like the neighbors). If the Questioner is sold on the rationale (“Because I believe doing a repetitive, monotonous chore is a good way to practice mindfulness, which I want to learn”), then digging dandelions (or something similar) might be a good fit. As for the Rebel…well, only the Rebel can decide what will work for him or her!
Tune in next Tuesday for another Spiritual Habits post.