Yesterday I managed about an hour of fairly gentle gardening. Two months ago I would have been out there all day, weeding, pruning and moving half a mountain of mulch. The weeds are spreading and I remind myself that this is my new normal. For the time being, I need to live life in a lower gear.
I’ve been here before. When I was very ill with fibromyalgia for months and I would look out the window in despair. My years of work to build a huge garden from scratch were being consumed by weeds and lack of care. I contemplated selling up and moving.
Gradually, as my health improved, I spent more and more time in the garden. It helped me to recover. It needed me and even on days when my energy was low I’d venture out there, start restoring a tiny corner of it and find myself happily occupied for the whole day.
What surprised me was that the weeds I thought had killed it had actually protected the garden. We’d had one of our hottest summers on record. The climbing weeds had spread across the surface of my delicate plants and saved them from the sun. Slowly the garden came back. I peeled back layers of weed to reveal a thriving garden.
A weed is really just a plant that you don’t want. Something that’s a weed in one garden can be a treasure in another.
Gardeners know that no single plant is actually a weed in all circumstances. Lantana is a decorative plant in the USA but a rampant nuisance here. Even then, it provides our tiny birds with habitat and acts as a fire retardant barrier.
It’s often how you look at things that matters.
When you start chemotherapy they warn you about fatigue. I’ve been told to get around forty minutes of gentle exercise to help combat it, but otherwise to ‘pay attention to your body.’ My energy comes and goes. For the week after chemo I’m very tired and then, slowly, things start to improve. Yoga helps. Even when my energy comes back up again I can suddenly feel very tired. Sometimes I just have to stop.
It would be very easy to find this upsetting. So many things to do. So many weeds to pull. Instead I’ve decided to think about it like this:
What I’m feeling is not fatigue. I am not ‘tired’, I am ‘healing’.
My body is fighting cancer and that takes a lot of energy. Nothing is more important than that right now. Sleep, rest and relaxation are all part of this battle, not a hinderance to it.
When I feel weary I take it as a sign that I need to stop, to turn may attention inwards. I close my eyes and breathe. Sometimes I find restful things to do. Sometimes I deliberately focus on healing. Both are good for me.
I’m very grateful for the gardening show that introduced me to the Victorian notion of ‘gongoozling’. The term was originally used to describe people that enjoyed watching canal boats but this particular commentator suggested we use the same idea for all of nature. He thought there was great merit in just finding a beautiful spot, sitting and looking. I agree.
I’m lucky enough to have a very comfortable swing chair on our verandah where I can gongoozle. The view is eucalypts and bright blue sky, filled with all of the native birds that make this little remnant of rescued bushland their home. It’s a perfect place to rest and heal. This is what I need to be doing right now. The weeds can wait.
I am also very grateful to the friend that helped me conquer my ‘to do’ list. When I complained that it seemed endless she said, “Well of course. It will always be endless. That’s just life! There’s no point trying to get through it all because you never will. Do what matters. Do what you love. Give the list a little bit of time every day and then remind yourself that it is not the source of your joy.”
The curious thing is that she taught me this years ago. It seems to me that we often know things without actually learning them. We all understand the concept of stopping to smell the roses but we keep falling back into old habits.
Why did I need to get cancer to be able to sit in a chair on the verandah and watch the birds without feeling guilty, or worried about the weeds in the garden? I’m smiling at my own silliness.
I’m looking out my back window as I write this. It’s the first day of spring. My garden is a riot of blossom. I’m going to take some time today to sit out there and remember when all these trees were tiny saplings and I tucked them into the earth with a kiss and a hope for their survival. I’m going to smile at the wisteria buds and the iris, and watch the fairy wrens start their nests. I’m going to enjoy the last of the magnolia blossom, the first of the peach blossom, the colours and the smells and the light.
I’m going to enjoy the weeds.
They’re an important lesson for me.