Seeds Know What To Do: Growing Our Gardens With Love

I always wanted a garden. To plant seeds and tend to them. To watch them grow and harvest their bounty. To connect with the ancient ways of cultivating and communing with the earth. Given everything else I love and value, having a garden seemed almost a moral imperative. A path towards gaining the qualities of a more evolved person.

Plus, I loved the outfits. The overalls, the straw hats, the cute gloves. I could just see it. There I would be - digging in the ground, a smear of dirt on my face, new freckles from working in the sun. Nibbling on a just-picked carrot, I would laugh with my son who would be frolicking adorably through the garden with a water hose. Who could resist such a photogenic past-time?! When I moved to the Catskills and my backyard had two ready-made plots of dirt, I took it as a sign. Seed packets in hand and overalls on, I headed to the yard, good to go.

Until I realized I had no idea what I was doing. Nestled in my palm, the seeds looked so precious and the instructions on the packets unforgivably specific. The holes needed to be just so and the spacing within fractions of inches. I had to consider the sun-to-shadow ratio and correct the quality of the dirt and what about the watering and would I be able to identify weeds versus the actual plants and how could I keep the bunnies away and had the last freeze passed and was it a full moon, because I heard that would be best for optimal biodynamic planting, and did I have any crystal quartz to plant with the seeds, too?

Suddenly what I had imagined to be magical and poetic and easefully transformative seemed like a science that took careful skill, meticulous preparation and hard-edged knowledge. An activity I could really screw up. And as with most things I attempt, I wanted to do it right. I wanted to follow a fail-safe plan. I wanted my efforts to bloom perfectly. Preferably sooner than later.

Worrying over my seeds, I recalled picking them off the rack based on their colorful packaging and promised results.

“You should have seen me at the store,” I told my neighbor Christie, a seasoned gardener who had come to help. "I was very confident."

She laughed and casually poked a few holes in the dirt.

“Wait," I fretted. "Did you measure those?”

“More or less,” she said.

“What if they’re off?” I asked.

“You really can’t mess this up,” she said.

“But there are so many instructions!”

“Sure, there are levels of skill and ways to do this,” she said, "but at a basic level, you can’t go wrong.”

I doubted that, but Christie patted me on the shoulder, took the seeds from my hand and sprinkled them breezily across the dirt.

“Seeds know what to do,” she said, efficiently tucking them into the earth with a no-big-deal energy. “Just put 'em into the dirt, give 'em some water and sun, and they grow."

Sharon Salzberg says that when she began practicing lovingkindness (metta) meditation she often imagines herself in a wide-open field, planting seeds. Doing metta, she writes,we plant seeds of love, knowing that nature will take its course and in time those seeds will bear fruit.

Seeds want to grow. Thoughtful effort will create results. Change with committed practice will happen. Christie was reminding me, like Sharon Salzberg, that this process of nature, of growth and transformation, is bigger than us, wider than us, and able to accommodate who we are with all of our romantic notions, our ignorance, our fear, our impatience and our hope about what growth is and how it happens and who it is for and who it is not for.

For the inherent grace and spaciousness of nature to reveal itself, however, we must actually "put 'em in the dirt." It's not enough to gaze at the picture of a sunflower or read about how to plant it or dress up so people think we're flower-whisperers. It’s not enough to imagine ourselves practicing yoga or meditation or reading books about the benefits. We have to kneel in the dirt and get our hands dirty. We have to roll out our mats. We have to sit down and practice.

Fear of failure contained, once I followed the lead of my more experienced friend, I was excited. After all, novelty is very inviting. I put the seeds in. I planted the garden. I began the process. Now what?

In one of Arnold Lobel’s brilliant “Frog and Toad” stories, the often grumpy, cynical Toad admires Frog’s garden and though Frog tells him it takes hard work, Toad wishes for one anyway. So, Frog gives him some seeds and tells him to put them into the ground.Soonyou will have a garden,Frog promises. How soon? Toad whines. Quite soon,Frog says. So, Toad runs home, plants the seeds and orders them to start growing. When they don’t, he puts his head next to the ground and says,Seeds! Start growing! Still not seeing results, he becomes terribly frustrated, paces up and down the garden, and begins shouting at the seeds. Frog rushes over, concerned by the yelling, and Toad complains that his seeds refuse to grow. These poor seeds are afraid to grow,Frog says. Leave them alone for a few days. Let the sun shine on them. Let the rain fall on them. Soon your seeds will grow.

It's not the answer that Toad wants to hear, that there's not much he can do but leave his seeds alone. Isn't there something else?! Like Toad, I long for instant blooming and immediate manifestation. I feel proud of my seed-planting and I want the universe to pat me on the back by giving me results. And I also want credit. To feel I’ve done something to create those results. So, I meddle in the process, try to push it forward, will it into manifestation. How hard it is to meet the gentle, mysterious timing of the natural growth process with a steady, spacious faith.

The thought manifests as the word,warns the Buddha,
the word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
and 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.

Forcing, shouting, blaming, and getting irritated will not speed up growth in ourselves, in others, or in our lives. In fact, just as a seed that is planted with and tended to with love will bloom into a beautiful flower (or carrot), so too will that seed manifest as a sickly thing when it is planted with fear and tended to with impatience, anger, irritation, and anxiety. The subtle heart energy with which we plant our intentions - and practice our yoga or meditation or gardening or relationships – will over time result in very un-subtle physical and mental dispositions. The Buddha goes on to say that regular practice will result in a variety of physical manifestations, giving us indication of whether we need to do some weeding, some re-planting, some earth-level healing. Practice that springs from love, he lists, will result in good sleep, easeful waking, and pleasant dreams. He promises that people will love us, animals and celestial beings will be attracted to us, external dangers will not harm us. Over time, he says, our faces will become radiant, our minds will be serene, and we will die unconfused.

Um... yes please! Just like I want a gorgeous garden of vegetables and flowers, I definitely want to be easeful and healthy and radiant and loved/loving. To shape myself towards those things, however, I must go deep into the ground of my being and look at the conditions in which my seeds have been planted. To do that I have to weed through the years and lifetimes of crusty conditioning to see where and how I must soften and amend the soil. I have to take out the stones and the previous generation’s dumping-ground trash of glass and rusty nails and Maxwell House coffee cans and then mix into that soil the compost of lovingkindness and messages of wholeness and practices of self-care. This takes time and consistent, faithful, optimistic effort.

It’s trial and error, too. Not all seeds have done well in my garden. The first year, we had lots of lettuces and hardly any tomatoes. The next year we moved the tomatoes and they flourished, but the carrots got eaten. This year we expanded our tomatoes, forewent the carrots, and added a strawberry plant. So, we learn from experience. We give more energy to what produces the fruit we want. We try new methods and seeds to see what takes and what doesn't. We study why things work and why they don't. We give it time and more time. And we take some risks, including letting go of what we desperately wish would grow but simply is not or cannot. Too shady. Not the right conditions. Not the right time.

Most importantly, we do this all with love and faith in a process that is beyond us and for us and with us and big enough to hold us and our anxious desire to get exactly what we think we want.

Sharon Salzberg reminds us that some seeds come to fruition quickly and some slowly, and while there is effort and cultivation along the way, our main work is just to plant the seeds. Every time we form the intention in the mind for our own happiness,she writes,or for the happiness of others, we are doing our work; we are channeling the powerful energies of our minds. Beyond that, we can trust the laws of nature to continually support the flowering of our love.

Or as the Buddha writes, we watch our thoughts with care, we tend to them with gentleness and skill, and, most importantly, we let them spring from love. After that, the natural process takes over, and we can relax our need to control the timing, the process and the outcome.

Toad, like most humans would be, is devastated when Frog tells him that he is scaring his seeds. Just as we often don’t realize that we are harming our growth with the habits of our self-doubt and fear, so he hadn't realized that his words and actions were hurting his seeds. In response, he swings the other direction and stays up all night singing to the seeds, reading to them, playing the violin, and talking to them. Undoubtedly, this is a much better form of intervention, but it is intervention nevertheless. When nothing happens even then, he collapses in exhaustion, certain that he has ruined everything. It is only then - when he lets go, falls asleep, and allows the seeds be - that the growth - which was happening all along, under the surface - becomes evident.

In the morning, when Toad wakes, there are little green sprouts pushing up through the dirt. Frog wakes him excitedly and while Toad is happy, he also admits, in his usual grumpy way, that Frog was right. Itwasvery hard work.

When harnessed with faith, planting our seeds and intentions and envisioning their outcome is the easy part. Tending to our growth is where it gets hard. The process from seed-planting to flower-blooming –from thought to character – will follow its own laws and timing. Yet we also must shape this growth through a trial and error mix of skillful and consistent effort, loving attention, good-natured patience, and a willingness to let go of when, where, and how it will all happen. And, unfortunately, there is no fail-safe formula for this, as I had hoped when I began my garden. There are no cute outfits or dreamy images that will substitute for the effort, the practice, the doing-it that is often messy and full of surprises. Thankfully, some of those surprises include a wild-strawberry patch that you never knew existed and a mint plant that your child loves and a peony that bursts out of the shrubby weeds with a gorgeous will to thrive.

Folks, it's June in the Catskills, and after a long winter and a cold Spring so much is suddenly wild with growth. This invites faith and beckons the questions: Where are you in the process of cultivating your own inner/outer gardens? Are you beginning to see the fruits of your planting efforts? What seeds have just begun to sprout? Which are ready to be fully harvested, enjoyed, and shared? Are there others you’re letting go? Others you’re still planting? How can you celebrate each step of this big mysterious process and which aspects do you find most challenging?

Summer at Catskills Yoga House is shaping up to be a good one, with offerings to support you every step of the way from seed-planting to letting go. Restorative sound baths and skillful anatomy study. Lovingkindness meditation and consistent strong asana practice. One-on-one coaching and inspiring group support. CYH is ready to be Frog to your Toad, supporting you as you plant and tend the garden of your body and mind and spirit.

As always, I am yours in love and movement and overalls, not a gardener yet, but certainly trying my best,


1984. My first planting attempt with my sister. That apple tree didn't do so well, but our best-friendship has remained steady and strong, bearing fruit in we ways never could have imagined then. Stay tuned for our second co-led yoga retreat the winter!

1984. My first planting attempt with my sister. That apple tree didn't do so well, but our best-friendship has remained steady and strong, bearing fruit in we ways never could have imagined then. Stay tuned for our second co-led yoga retreat the winter!