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Room to Grow

By Clark Zimmerman, LAc. 

I have a lot of dirt under my fingernails these days. This happens every spring, once the winter darkness gives way to the longer days, and the garden begins to awaken. My wife and I spend lot of time in the spring getting the garden beds ready. We weed, trim, spread compost, mulch, and make sure the irrigation is ready for the coming heat.  Once things begin to be a little more orderly, it is time to sow the seeds. Anytime someone tells me that they don’t believe in magic, I tell them to go and plant a garden. There is something about the alchemy of watching the sun, soil and water turn seeds into food, flowers and medicine. 

This weekend I thinned the radishes and lettuces that we seeded a few weeks ago. It feels a bit strange to pull perfectly healthy plants before they have grown, but it is an essential part of gardening. In the Taoist theory of the five elements, springtime is the season of the wood element.  Wood exemplifies the energy of visions and planning.  Like the information contained in a seed, the wood element has a blueprint inside: A vision of how an idea can grow and develop.  While the fall and winter are the seasons to prune the dead wood, the clutter in the closets, springtime reminds us of the importance of thinning the things that are still full of life and possibility. It is hard to thin things that feel relevant and alive.  We tend to have an easier time expanding than we do downsizing.  Culturally we seem value a wealth of experiences, more than space.  This is why so many of us tend to be overcommitted.  However, when we commit to too many things, no matter how wonderful the things may seem, we restrict the space for things to grow and thrive.  My lettuces seedlings all looked so eager to grow; so full of life, yet if they are all left to grow, they begin to crowd each other out. They compete for the water, the sun and nutrients.  This overcrowding guarantees that none of them will truly thrive.

Spring is the time to consider what ideas we want to nourish and what visions we want to tend to; what commitments we can entertain.  It is also the time to decide which plans we should thin out.  When we get overextended, even with wonderful and interesting things, we typically can’t give things the attention and resources that they need to really grow.  Like the seedlings in my garden, the longer we hold onto things, the tougher they become to thin.  The same is true of spring for humans.  It is important to consider what things we want to “plant” for our busy season, and then to thin the things that make our days feel overcrowded.  Thinning our lives involves some honest reflection.   We need to consider how much care we can truly give a thing.  

“Too much of a good thing is not a good thing.”

This is the challenge with opportunity and abundance.  It is tempting to say yes to every good thing that crosses our path, but doing this typically leads to overwhelm and exhaustion.  Before spring turns to summer, it is a great time to honestly consider what visions and plans you truly have time for, and to thin the rest.  When we consider the lesson of the garden, that things do best when we allow for some room to grow.