The other day I was browsing through my copy of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki. The subtitle of the book is “Informal talks on Zen meditation and practice” but it could easily be “ways of learning” or “ways of seeing.” That day, I stopped at the talk on “Mind Weeds,” in the section titled “Right Practice.” Suzuki said:
We say, “Pulling out the weeds we give nourishment to the plant.” We pull the weeds and bury them near the plant to give it nourishment. So even though you have some difficulty in your practice, even though you have some waves while you are sitting, those waves themselves will help you. So you should not be bothered by your mind. You should rather be grateful for the weeds, because eventually they will enrich your practice.
Suzuki was talking about the practice of Zen meditation but you can apply the idea to any practice, such as learning or writing. Often we are so caught up in our urgent wish to produce the right answer or the well-written essay, and so afraid and dismissive of mistakes and failures, that it might be useful to think of Suzuki’s mind weeds. The practice of learning or writing, like gardening or meditation, is a process of growth in time. The mistakes we make, the drafts we write and re-write, are not waste but nourishment from which we grow as learners and writers. In our desire for instant results, it is difficult but important to be patient and “grateful for the weeds, because eventually they will enrich your practice.”
A transcription of Suzuki’s original talk, from 18 November 1965, can be found on the Dharma Talk Blog.