The Jew And The Carrot

Zen and the Art of Weed Whacking

By Rhea Yablon Kennedy

  • Print
  • Share Share
Rhea Yablon Kennedy

Caught in a rainstorm in Guatemala, with only chafing rain boots to tackle the wet, muddy miles ahead, Joe Gorin is about to give in to misery. Then he remembers a Buddhist practice: walking meditation. The scene begins to change as he uses this tool for enhanced awareness and thought to smooth the journey. This scene comes from Gorin’s memoir “Choose Love: A Jewish Buddhist Human Rights Activist in Central America,” and illustrates how well his spiritual practice entwined with his human rights work in 1980s Latin America. The author, who is a psychotherapist and I just call Joe, works the plot next to mine in a community garden in Northwest D.C. Joe gave me his book this spring, after I shared that I write.

Though I’ve never trudged around Central America in the rain, and am only a neophyte meditator, I have developed a similar penchant for spotting lessons — I’ll call it metaphor meditation. It is a similar concept to the one that made Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” an international bestseller. Usually used for a variety of reasons in literature, from foreshadowing (gathering storm clouds) to character development (the corset of a restricted aristocrat), metaphor can lend insight for a sustainable life as well.

My latest metaphor for meditation is weeds, those uninvited guests who have become so familiar to me in the very garden I share with Joe.

I count anything that I didn’t plant intentionally as a weed, so that of course includes the crab grass that constantly sends runners into my beds, but also wild callaloo and purslane, and even the volunteer dill growing where last year’s seeds dropped.

Weeds give you only three options: 1) Ignore them, 2) Trim them, or 3) Eradicate the damn things. The path I take with a given weed at a certain time means more than the fate of a bundle of cellulose. The decisions and ramifications help me to meditate on life challenges.

While I don’t condone ignoring most problems, I usually ignore purslane until it is a full-grown plant. Then I harvest and eat it. Yes, the low-growing red stems and waxy leaves do grow large quickly, but the plants don’t seem to disturb anything. What’s more, I learned a few years ago that those oily leaves are packed with Omega 3s. This year I blended one batch into a smoothie, while I ground another with an equal volume of fresh basil, along with garlic, olive oil, and walnuts to make a lemony pesto. Those red stalks come to mind when I sense that a problem may take care of itself and even benefit me in the end.

Much of that crab grass grows to the side, and this is a case for trimming. If I turned the other way, the stuff would crawl over my clean beds and take over everything. On the other hand, if I set to digging up the whole root system, I would spend the whole day hacking at nuisances without a chance to enjoy the vegetables and flowers. Once again, I see parallel problems that, to stay manageable, require some attention — just not too much, if you intend to keep your sanity.

Nearly every other weed is bothersome enough to fall into the extraction category. From a feathery weed that grows into a small forest between my plot and Joe’s, to vines that crawl over my squash and pole beans, the only way to confront this type is the tear them out.

Callaloo is a tough case. I’ve written about its virtues, but like a friend who sometimes comes to your rescue but otherwise just sinks in her roots, these leafy plants can be a mixed blessing. They often nestle next to plants I have actually cultivated, without seeming to suck away much moisture or nutrients. This makes them a good candidate for Approach #1 — just letting them go. Yet I admit that I enjoy pulling the rigid callaloo stalks and tender, pine-colored leaves, savoring the clean rip of the roots and the smell of soil that comes up with them. Like purslane, this weed is also edible and nutritious. I often see not an intruder in those plants, but a serving of sautéed greens, brimming with calcium and potassium and garnished with minced garlic, plumped raisins and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Unfortunately, as I pulled up a callaloo stalk the other day, I took a small onion with it. Weigh your options, the yellow victim seemed to say, before you take metaphorical advice into the concrete world out there.

Rhea Yablon Kennedy holds a master’s degree in creative nonfiction from Johns Hopkins University. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Washingon Jewish Week,, and Edible Chesapeake magazine. Rhea has long been a cook by hobby and sometimes by profession. She currently teaches English and writing at Gallaudet University.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Weeds, Purslane, Callaloo

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.