Healing, and Bindweed

I’ve been thinking about healing, and about bindweed, recently. I have been mentally ill for 32 years. In the last two years, my doctor and I have reduced my psychiatric medication very slowly and very carefully, so that today I’m taking 25 percent as much as I required two years ago. I have every hope and intention of someday reducing to zero. I would be the first to tell you that reaching this level has been the result of a great deal of persistent hard work and prayer over all those years. I would also be the first to tell you that getting as well as I am now has been a miracle—not just one miracle, as a matter of fact, but a whole series of miracles. Those habits of faulty thinking, one by one, have simply disappeared, often in a single night. Then, in a few days or weeks, it becomes clear that there’s another faulty thought pattern I have needed to work on too.

Now about the bindweed: when I was getting ready for yearly meeting, all my spare energy and initiative went into the preparations. A few days after yearly meeting, my husband and I stood looking at the raspberry patch. It was covered with bindweed. You may not be familiar with bindweed. It’s a very pretty vine, but the little tendrils wind themselves around each other, forming ropes. The poor raspberries were completely draped, bowed to the ground, and the soil between the raspberries was blanketed, covered, with bindweed. The whole patch looked like some sort of wild topiary garden.

Because of my heat sensitivity, which is a result of the medication, I could only work in the coolest parts of the day—early morning and late evening. We had about a month’s worth of evenings and mornings ahead of us, just reclaiming that raspberry patch. We set to work.

We have different gifts: my husband is very careful about details, and he took on the job of gently, gently unwinding each bindweed tendril from a single raspberry plant. He seldom damaged so much as a single leaf of the raspberry. I, in the meantime, moved through the areas between the raspberries, gathering up great armloads of bindweed with my left arm, then sawing the bundles loose with my sickle, throwing the green mass behind me, and gathering up another armload. At the end of one evening in mid-July, we stood and surveyed what we’d accomplished. My husband had managed to free three raspberries, and I’d created several cubic yards of freshly-cut bindweed trash.

"It doesn’t look like I accomplished very much," he said.

I laughed. "We each have our gifts! Your job is to free the raspberries while doing as little trauma as you can to the good plants, and my job is to deliver as much trauma as I can to the bindweed!"

Finally, the miracle was accomplished— the entire patch was freed, if only temporarily, from its blanket of bindweed. It wasn’t until that moment that we saw a whole lot of little weeds—Virginia creeper, nutsedge, creeping Charley, purslane—which only became visible with the bindweed gone. Those little weeds looked up at us and said, "Thank you very much for removing all that really grody bindweed. Now we’re here, ready to take over the universe."

Actually, it took only another evening or two to get those weeds, which were still in their infancy. As I worked I thought, "What a great metaphor for the whole process of healing! You have to develop good thought habits in order to heal. You need to be as tender as you can with the good habits, and discourage the most negative thought habit as faithfully as you can. And when the miracle happens and the negative thought simply disappears, you just have to expect that all the little weedy habits of faulty thinking, which you hardly noticed before, will now be evident and will take over if you let them. So, we can just expect that a really big healing will always be followed by more work—for the little healings that are necessary, too."

Mariellen O. Gilpin

Mariellen Gilpin is an editor of What Canst Thou Say?—a newsletter for Quakers who have mystical experiences or practice contemplative prayer (http://www.whatcanstthousay.org). She is a member of Urbana-Champaign (Ill.) Meeting.