GROWTH (8/10, Blessing of the Trees)
As a recovering perfectionist, I understand something known in the study of human dysfunction as “unrelenting standards.” Someone with this schema, or deeply held belief or outlook, tends to see things as black or white, good or bad, the right way or the wrong way. Whether putting together a bookcase, inaugurating a new technology gadget, or breaking out a new board game, my family knows that I always start with the instructions. I figure that the “right” way is the way that the inventor intended, and my preference is to take my time on the front end, laying out the pieces, identifying the buttons and functions, or learning the rules. This approach has its merits (and its demerits, my family tells me), but when perfection is pursued as a habitual life goal, it can be unbelievably destructive: to relationships, to one’s self-esteem and happiness, and even to life itself. Psychological researchers have found that perfectionists are at significantly higher risk for depression, eating disorders, poor health, and suicide.
So what’s the antidote to perfectionism? I can tell you in one word. Gardening.
GROWTHfrom The Blessing of the Trees
still but never static
giving the lie to the illusion of perfection
always changing and holding loosely
the shape of the past
True, I’ve heard of obsessive-compulsive gardeners who are out every day, keeping their hedges trimmed in a straight line down to the very leaf or searching for stray weeds in the lawn. (Hey, come to think of it, I’ve done that myself, ha!) But overall, I’ve found that being out in nature, even when it’s merely within my own little square of land, teaches me that there is no such thing as perfection, only what IS today.
When we moved into our current house five years ago, it was a brand new house in a brand new neighborhood. We had beautiful, big windows, but a small, fenced yard. That meant that the view out most of those gorgeous windows was a plain wooden fence only a few feet away. I didn’t want to sacrifice my beloved sunlight by covering them all with curtains or blinds, and thus was born my career as a gardener. The first thing was to plant various kinds of vines to climb the fence outside each of the windows. Along the back fence I planted star jasmine and trained it with trellises and wires to cover the fence. But other spots in the yard have been subject to more trial and error. I’ve had more failures than successes: climbing roses and a Mexican firebush that drowned in heavy rains; the Dutchman’s pipe vine that gave me a single, spectacular bloom, then succumbed to a frost, and so many butterfly bushes that I’ve finally given up on those. I’ve failed with a rising sun redbud tree, Carolina jessamine, Dutch irises, and various kinds of coneflowers and daylilies. I have a wisteria that’s been trying to get going for four and a half years. It’s still alive, and each spring sends out a few tendrils that attempt to wind up our swing arbor, but it’s not the vigorous growth I was hoping for by now! I’m on my third or fourth passion flower vine. This one is extraordinarily vigorous, practically smothering part of the also-vigorous star jasmine, but it still failed to attract a single Gulf fritillary caterpillar.
On the other hand, I have several plants that are doing quite well, thank you very much, and bring me much pleasure: the heavy, sweet scent of the tiny, white jasmine blooms; the fronds of the purple fountain grass that wave outside my study window; the morning glories that all spring and summer long unfurl to greet the sun, then wither in the afternoon; the small tree heavy laden with fat lemons in the fall. But could I ever declare my garden “finished”? Could I ever check gardening off my do-list? No, because it’s constantly changing. Every morning I go out and visit a different garden from the day before.
But could I ever declare my garden “finished”?
No, because every morning I go out
and visit a different garden from the day before.
Nature teaches us that perfection is an illusion. A tree is never perfect. It simply is what it is this day. Season by season it goes through its cycles, according to its species: budding, flowering, putting forth its pale, baby leaves, new shoots, growing taller, thickening, bearing fruit or nuts, turning brilliant autumn colors, dropping its leaves, entering its winter hibernation. Year by year it grows and changes. If a tree can be so beautiful and full of life, and yet never be perfect, what does that say about you and me?
Next post: Morning Glory