Sitting with the wheat and the weeds:

In the Parable of The Weeds among the Wheat, we hear Jesus teaching that the field of our life contains seeds which grow into wheat and seeds that grow into weeds, and that we shouldn’t be too quick to try and pull up the weeds and get rid of them.

In fact, Jesus says very directly that we shouldn’t pull them up all, that we should allow the wheat and weeds to grow together.[1] The weeds have a role to play.

When we meditate, we return to the field of our life to sit with the wheat and the weeds. Sitting quietly with what we dislike in ourselves (or have been taught to dislike) can teach us a great deal. Our practice is not to try and weed out what we would prefer not to see, but to cultivate a new relationship with what we encounter.

Within our silence, weeds can become important doorways of practice, awareness and compassion.

It’s perfectly natural for all sorts of thoughts to arise during our time of practice and we are likely to notice them with much greater clarity. As we bring our whole attention to the gentle repetition of our prayer word (or phrase) in union with the flow of our breath, the surface mind becomes still and awareness opens.

The surface mind is like the sea, wrote Saint Diadochus. “When the sea is calm, fishermen can scan its depths and hardly any creature moving in the water can escape their notice.”[2] When the surface mind is calm, we can look deeply within.

When wheat-like thoughts appear, many of us will feel pleased to welcome them and pleased with ourselves. When weed-like thoughts appear, many of us might feel disappointed with ourselves, or a great deal worse than that.

Whether we like what we see or not, our practice remains the same: we greet all thoughts with silence. We let them be and quietly return to our practice.

Trying not to have thoughts only leads to more thoughts (even to think “I will not have a thought” is to add another thought to the growing pile). As Saint Teresa of Avila noted, “The harder you try not to think of anything, the more aroused your mind will become and you will think even more.”[3]

Trying to battle directly with thoughts proves equally unhelpful and frustrating. If we think we can uproot an unwelcome thought through sheer head-on force of will, we quickly discover that all we have been doing is watering and feeding it with our attention, helping it grow larger, more stubborn and persistent.

However frustrating or painful they may be, each weed-like thought brings with it an opportunity. Instead of automatically reacting to them with fear or self-reproach, we can choose to see them as invitations to practice patience, understanding and compassion.

“Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate,” Jesus taught.[4]

After silencing the crowd of accusers by means of his silence, Jesus said to the woman who was about to be stoned, “Where are they? Does no one condemn you?” She replied, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I.”[5]

Just as Jesus silenced the accusers by means of his silence, Christ helps us silence the accusing voices within us by means of our deepening silence.

Greeting thoughts with silence, we avoid getting caught-up in judgemental thoughts about our thoughts, which is to say we avoid getting caught-up in judgemental thoughts about ourselves.

We learn to greet ourselves with quiet compassion.

We discover, like the woman who was about to be stoned, that there is no one judging us, there is no one condemning us.

“One of the most important insights that comes from working with silence,” writes Maggie Ross, “is that nothing in our lives is wasted.”[6] Even the most difficult weeds, the most painful realities of our life, can become gifts which enrich the soil of our practice and help reveal the treasure buried in the field of our life.

Patterns and habits of thought may run deep, but their roots do not run as deep as we do.

In our depths there is only peace, only love.

[1] Matthew 13:30.

[2] St. Diadochus On Spiritual Knowledge, in The Philokalia, Vol.1 (Faber and Faber).

[3] St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, trans. Miribai Starr (New York: Riverhead Books).

[4] Luke 6:36.

[5] John 8:1–11.

[6] Maggie Ross, Silence: A User’s Guide, Volume 1: Process (Darton, Longman and Todd).

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The School of Contemplative Life

The School of Contemplative Life

Chris Whittington is the Founder of the School of Contemplative Life. Visit our website: www.schoolofcontemplativelife.com