On Sunday morning, I taught my two classes, came home, had lunch, and, since it wasn’t raining, went out to the back yard to do some spring cleanup.
My main objective was to tackle the dandelions that grow just outside the flowerbed and between the paving stones of my parking space.
I opened Photo365 on my phone, an app that makes it easy to store images by date. I poked March 19 on the calendar, and took a picture of the thriving clump featured above.
As I set about weeding, I mulled the caption I’d add, something about the annual invasion of the dandelions. Then I decided to take another picture when I was done, to mark the successful end of the campaign.
I began to feel an invigorating sense of getting myself roused to do battle – albeit with a small enemy incapable of hurting me.
And that’s when I woke up.
At the end of both classes on Sunday morning I read, as always, from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. That day it was chapter two, verses 29 to 34.
This part of the text explains the restrictions, the boundaries placed on our behavior towards others, and the observances, the personal disciplines we are to undertake.
It ends with a dense, complicated sentence on “cultivating the opposite.”
Cultivating the opposite is realizing that perverse ideas, such as the idea of violence, result in endless suffering and ignorance – whether the ideas are acted out, instigated, or sanctioned, whether motivated by greed, anger or delusion, whether mild, moderate, or extreme.
As perverse ideas go, my mini-war was mild, and as easy to catch as the flu.
Military metaphors permeate our lives. We have declared war on drugs, poverty, household dirt, empty calories and facial hair, not to mention Afghanistan.
I once heard a woman’s wardrobe described as her arsenal – presumably it included the ruffles of mass destruction.
When I took up arms against the dandelions, I wasn’t feeling angry or greedy, but my mini-war was clearly delusional.
Dandelions wish me no ill. They’re a life form, like me, looking for space to root, desirous of seed and progeny, albeit more successful at getting them than other plants.
Just because I don’t want them growing down the side of my parking space doesn’t mean I have to dislike them, or feel any spite as I dig them out.
In fact, I might as well be grateful. Dandelions offer me a simple and pleasant editing job, with no tough decisions. In the rest of my life I’m editing all the time, but the choice of what stays and what goes is never so easy and clear.
Does it matter how I approach the dandelions?
I think so.
For one thing, once I’d stopped rolling my eyes at my own hostile tendencies, I felt peaceful and more present, happier than when I was going to war.
Later, looking for another take on those verses, I picked up Edwin F. Bryant’s excellent translation and commentary of the Yoga Sutras.
He writes that persistently noticing perverse thoughts and countering them with more wholesome ones can eventually transform the mind.
It works this way: every thought and action imprints itself in our mind, laying down a trace in our brain. As we go through our days, these imprints from the past, samskaras, in Sanskrit, are triggered, and rise into consciousness.
Some of them are in line with the precepts of yoga, and not coincidentally, with the habits needed to live a happy life.
Many of them are not.
If we pay attention to the small chattering voice telling stories about what the present moment means, and how it relates to us, we can catch the hostile thoughts, and counter them with benevolent ones.
Instead of planting more perverse ideas, only to reap endless suffering and ignorance, we plant a seed of sattva, or luminosity, that will arise at some future time.
As sattva is cultivated in this way,” Bryant writes, “the personality of the yogi becomes altered.”
As in a garden, the more one makes an effort to uproot weeds, the more the bed will eventually become a receptacle for fragrant flowers, which will then grow and reseed of their own accord, until there is hardly any room for the weeds to surface.
I don’t expect to run out of dandelions any time soon.
But campanula has also seeded itself along the outer edge of the flowerbed, in the same spots as the dandelions. In June and July it will send up long spikes with blue bell-shaped flowers.
And there at least I can hope for no yellow dandelions, and no seed heads, ready to float with the wind, and root where they land.
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