Pests as the precursors of change

by Clark Zimmerman, LAc.

One of the first things that my wife and I did when we moved to our mountain home was to cancel the pest exterminator services.  The previous owners had used the exterminator for years with “great success, “ as evidenced by the lack of bugs around the house.  Since my wife and I are organic gardeners, we were uneasy with the idea of spraying the entire exterior of the house with substances that would not only kill the pests, but other creatures as well.  The first year there wasn’t a noticeable increase in the pest population, but the second year was a different story.  Suddenly we had an explosion of bugs of all sorts, both inside the house and outside in the newly established gardens.  We used small amounts of natural pest sprays in very specific places, but the bugs kept coming.  We wondered if we had made a mistake, and briefly considered  calling the exterminator back in to help.  But we chose to wait it out another year.  Our patience paid off in the the following year when an amazing thing began to happen:  That is when the lizards began to arrive.  They were beautiful, iridescent and colorful new inhabitants of the landscape.  The frogs were next to arrive, serenading us with nightly choruses.   The lizards and frogs couldn’t show up until the insects that they feed on became plentiful. What initially felt like a potential mistake in letting the insects run wild actually became an invitation to other forms of life to arrive and begin to make the ecosystem more whole, more alive.

So often we have agendas.  We prefer that things go the way we think that they should.  We don’t want to be inconvenienced by pests.  We are conditioned by our society to try to root out anything that gets in the way of our comfort or plans.  But seeing the world this way doesn’t allow us to enjoy the true fullness of life.  At first glance things don’t always demonstrate their value, but when we can attend to the things that we are given with patience and curiosity, we begin to notice that things begin to transform.  This is true of the pests in the garden that invite the lizards and ladybugs;  it is true of the mice that invite the owls that call to us in the nighttime.  The challenging part to all of this is that typically the difficulty shows itself first, and we often have to wait for the gift to arrive. 

I have been considering this truth a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic.  We are all aware of the many challenges that the pandemic presents, whether we have lost a job, are worried about our health, or are separated from people we love.  But we haven’t had enough time to experience the fullness of the gifts yet.  I keep wondering what new ideas or realizations will come from this difficult time.  The problems are evident at this stage of the game, but the gifts remain somewhat hidden.  We are being forced to reevaluate our priorities, our relationships, and our careers.  We are still early in the process though.  It is as if we are all aware of the insects that are nibbling on our lettuce, but for now they are dining alone.  They will inevitably be followed by the other characters that they attract.  The lizards, birds and beneficial insects that all add song and color to the landscape.  It can be tricky to wait for a difficult issue to begin to show its gift.  Often, like the bugs in our garden, we are tempted to go for a quick fix. We don’t want to linger in the discomfort. 

When we try to kill or sanitize an unsavory situation before we understand the gift that it is calling in, it may make our lives seem cleaner and more controlled, but it can also make our lives less alive.  Life is a complex matrix of seemingly incongruent forces and situations.   When we think of life as something to be controlled or conquered, we commit to a more short-sighted understanding of things.  We begin to focus on control more than coexistence, on directives more than curiosity.  This encourages us to falsely assume that we know more about things than we really do.  If we can’t weather the discomfort or the pests, we don’t get to enjoy the unknown fruits that they eventually bear.  When they say that it takes both clouds and sun to make a rainbow, they often forget to mention that sometimes the clouds last for awhile, and the rainbow doesn’t appear until the storm begins to break.  So now is the time to believe that there is a larger story at play.  Now is the time to practice patience and to practice faith.  Now is the time to be curious about what changes will be arriving in our garden.  Just like the lizards in my garden, sometimes we just have to wait for them.

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