Planting New Thoughts, Weeding Out the Old

Two tiny plants sprout out of rich soil.The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
The habit hardens into character.
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings.
-The Buddha

In the garden of our minds, weeds are the habitual patterns we perpetuate unintentionally, which choke out the new ways we are trying to cultivate. It is the nature of weeds to try to take over, as it is the nature of old ingrained patterns to rise up again and again. So we need to pay attention, and take care of the weedy stuff as soon as we can, to make space for the new.

Sometimes the space created by taking out weeds can feel scary. That’s okay, it is a good time to kick back and take a few deep breaths and a stroll around the garden to see what else is happening. What are those glorious bright flowers doing over there? Oh, those are bulbs you planted last fall, with faith and confidence (okay, maybe not so much confidence, but you did plant them). Now they are doing their thing. They are springing forth because when you planted them you ensured successful conditions, as best you could—considering timing, placement, and nourishment. Then you trusted the nature of the work you did and the nature of what you set in the ground, and voila—now you have daffodils.

Sometimes it takes a season or two for the blossoming of our intention to become apparent. It may take years, even decades, for that clump of well-placed daffodils to become a field and overtake the weeds by themselves. But it will happen. That is the nature of well-placed, intentional action and mindfulness.

Training the mind is like gardening. We select what to cultivate and set about creating the ideal causes and conditions for it to flourish. What we may not realize is that what grows is not only what we place in the ground of our minds, but the attitude with which we tend it. Gardening means attending to the daily changes that occur in our plot of land; in this case, what happens to our minds each day. If the weeds get high, there is no need for judgment, there is need for weeding.

When we notice old negative habits creeping in—the weeds of the mind, as it were—it does not serve to attack them. They were planted there early on, for good reason, so we can simply acknowledge their presence, accept that they will invariably arise as remnants of a former crop, and remove them with respect. Any time we till the soil of our minds to plant something new, we expose the seeds of old thoughts and behaviors to fresh light and nourishment. If we do not want to encourage the rampant growth of old habits, we have to pay attention (oh, how they spring up in a moment!).

But to reject them is pointless, and to approach them aggressively merely scatters the seeds of aggression and negativity. We can plant the seeds of patience, kind-hearted attention, intention, compassion, and wellbeing, even as we remove the unwanted habits from the ground of our minds. We can appreciate that these “weeds” had their place in our lives, that they kept us alive until we became able to choose something more useful.

Anything we are trying to change, can only be changed with kindness and awareness; self-hatred and rejection only recreate the conditions of fear that gave rise to the old habit in the first place.

Say you bite your fingernails from anxiety, a habit you learned for self-soothing as a child. No amount of scolding from a parent, no amount of bitter apple, no rejection of the habit ever freed you from it. The underlying anxiety was never addressed, and in fact was exacerbated through these tactics. What frees us from nail-biting, and anything else we developed to comfort ourselves in painful times (which is every habit we have), is both the antidote to the habit and the ache beneath the habit—love. Loving ourselves and our habits, accepting their presence in our lives, is the path through the habit to a new and more useful way of being.

As we learn to gently speak our truths, as we stand up for ourselves, as we attend to the present moment’s pain, we can move from suffering to health. We decide what to plant now. If you never liked kohlrabi, don’t plant it, but if you always longed for violets, now is your chance. Plant them where and when they are most likely to thrive, tend them by feeding and watering, weed lovingly, and enjoy the natural beauty of your mind.

© Copyright 2010 by Ker Cleary, LPC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment

    May 3rd, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    Wonderfully put there!Our mind compared to a garden… :)

    I do agree that each one of us has these weeds in our garden and that it is very important that we replace them with something more productive and keep a check so that the weeds do not re-appear because they easily come back and steal all the nutrition from the useful plants, that is the negative thoughts take away much of our effort that could have been so nicely been used for something more constructive!

  • Ker

    May 3rd, 2010 at 4:35 PM

    Thanks, Kenneth. Yes, it is an easy metaphor to relate to, isn’t it?

  • Pollard

    May 4th, 2010 at 8:21 AM

    Yes,it is very similar to gardening.I used to have a lot of weeds in my garden because I was just too lazy to take them off.Deep down inside,I was scared too as it meant there would be a change and I din’t quite know if I could cope with the change…I was addicted to alcohol.

    I enrolled to a de-addiction center and am now on my path to recovery.I am doing fine and am now able to stay away from drinking.I guess some lovely flowers are ready to blossom in my garden now! :)

  • M.E

    May 4th, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    The best part about our mind’s garden is that we ourselves have the control to decide and bring in spring whenever we want to and can even sustain the springtime.

  • Ker

    May 18th, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    Pollard – I think you express it well – we are often afraid of what the change might be. We know it will be unfamiliar. It takes courage to step into the unknown, to tolerate the uncertainty of the space that is created when we remove weeds and wait for what we plant to emerge. Congratulations on your flowers!

    M.E. – And if we plant something we decide we don’t like, we can remove it and try something else! Gardens are dynamic and ever-changing, like life itself.

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