Exercise 5: Weeds and the soul

This is not strictly an 'art therapy' exercise. It involves several components:
1. Examining the meaning of the word weed and the way this influences thought in contemporary society
2. Analysing artwork incorporating weeds, as a way of investigating how seemingly useless and perhaps even negative things can be turned into useful and beautiful objects.
3. Next, is a 'recipe' for turning a common garden weed (dandelion) into a nutritious tea, purported to have healing benefits
4. Finally we use our learnings to generate meditation prompts and other tools for examining re-thinking and coping with the 'weeds' in our lives.

Views on weeds

Weeds are generally viewed as plants that are worthless and bad, ie that they are pests to be overcome, fought against and conquered. Gardeners have all manner of strategies for dealing with weeds ranging from micro, macro and pre-emptive weeding1, to companion planting, other organic gardening practices and the use of herbicides, etc  Even spiritual and meditation literature refer to unwanted thoughts as 'mind weeds' to be eradicated.


Shunryu Suzuki in his book  Zen: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, suggests another way of viewing mind weeds and dealing with them. He says that real wisdom dissipates mind weeds by being grateful for them.  With the right perspective, they enrich one's path towards a more mindful life. How one may ask? Well, what is required is not to curse the weeds or to overcome them, but simply to focus on the 'non-weeds' one wishes to cultivate and strengthen them by doing so. In time these take over and absorb the weeds.2

In some schools of thought, weeds are positive things - Ayurveda views weeds as plants whose uses we do not know. Contemporary ecologists are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that weeds naturally colonise areas that have been contaminated by oil and chemical spills and in time detoxify the area, making it available for safe use again.

Industrial farming relies increasingly on monocultures ie single cultivar cash crops. Any wild plant that arises naturally in the vicinity of these crops is viewed as a pest to be destroyed. Yet, before the advent of genetic manipulation, all plants which we now view as food or cash crops were once weeds, in that they were 'wild' things which did what wild things do unless forcibly stopped and that is to flourish in community with other living beings.3

Art work incorporating weeds

Art has always been a vehicle though which new ideas or fresh ways of looking at old ones are introduced.  An artist who challenges prevailing perceptions on weeds is Adelaide based, Stephanie Radok. Her work includes paintings, etchings, prints, digital images and a series of exhibitions including 'Weeds of the City 2010' and 'Weeds of the Wasteplaces'. She often distributes her prints free or at very low cost, at pubs and exhibition venues as a way of kick-starting an exchange of ideas on her favourite subject - weeds. She created a series of acrylic paintings of weeds which she had printed on Belgium beer coasters! In an article in Artlink,4 poet, novelist and broadcaster Cath Kenneally reviewed Radok's work with weeds and more importantly her view of them as 'green fuses' representing tenacity, diversity and survival skills. Kenneally herself describes weeds as "runaways, travellers, gypsies, their virtues once known intimately by humans".
Another interesting take off on weeds is 'Little weeds"5, a platform curated by Lisa Harms for art projects that "index intimate, generative processes...actions (persistent, errant) that occur outside of prescribed 'function' and yet emanate from and exist within/entangled amongst the fabric of everyday life..."  Incidentally this platform also showcases a cameo of Radok's work and that of several other artists with an inclination towards sustainability and re-purposing.

Working with weeds - Dandelion tea

The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a weed that 'infests' lawns, 'marring their beauty'. It can be turned into a delicious tea which is said to aid weight loss, rejuvenation, detoxification, boost digestive, liver and kidney function and improve the appearance of skin.6  While tea can be made from the flowers and leaves of the plant, the method I followed utilised the roots. Though I have included photos of the process below, for recipes of all possible variations and even some delicious dandelion pasta, jelly and wine recipes visit The Herb Gardener.7

Dandelion plants after harvesting

Dandelion leaves after washing.
These can be brewed into a tea,
tossed in a salad or
added to a green smoothie.

Dandelion roots after washing,
scrubbing and chopping

Chopped roots ready for baking

Grinding the baked roots

Brewing the baked roots
in hot water before straining

Dandelion tea - ready to drink :-)

Exercise
1. With your cuppa and notebook in hand, do a quick 10 minute 'mind map' of areas in your life you consider to be 'weeds'. Here is how: At the centre of  a fresh sheet of paper, write "MY WEEDS" encase the words in a circle and draw at least six spokes radiating from it. At the end of each spoke write down one area of your life you think of as a weed (ie something which detracts from your quality of life).
2. Now, draw three spokes radiating from each of the six spokes. At the end of the first of the three spokes write a meditation prompt which will help you when re-thinking your approach to this 'weed'. At the end of the second spoke write a word to represent a change you would like to make in relation to this 'weed'. At the end of the third spoke write out a 'creative response' you would like to make regarding this weed. The 'creative response' could be anything - a song, cartoon, haiku, crochet motif, joke, recipe, mosaic - anything that you devise with your own mind and craft with your own hands to remind you of the change you will make in your life in relation to this 'weed'
3. Finally, the hardest part of all - craft your 'creative response' for just one of the six 'weeds' you have identified. Once it is ready, display it in a place where it constantly reminds you of your resolve and creativity in relation to this challenge.  When you are ready, follow the process for your 'creative response' to the next 'weed'. Keep going until ALL the 'weeds' have been dealt with.


References:
Books
A. Zen: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
URLs
1.  1. http://www.maydreamsgardens.com/2009/06/weeding-therapy-good-for-garden-and.html
2http://www.fusionmindfulness.com/zen-mindfulness-mind-weeds-2/
3. http://www.seriousseeker.net/en/?p=127
4. http://www.artlink.com.au/articles/3560/weeds-without-frontiers-stephanie-radok/
5. http://littleweeds.conservatory.org.au/
6. http://www.dandeliontea.org/dandelion-tea/facts-about-dandelion-tea-benefits
7. http://theherbgardener.blogspot.com.au/2009/06/dandelion-tea-recipes.html

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