I woke up early today with my mother on the phone, telling me that I have to call my sister because I didn’t call on my niece’s birthday — she just turned one. I have plenty of reasons I could list to explain why I didn’t call, but for some reason, when my mom called me to tell me to do it, I felt annoyed. Why should I call if someone else is telling me that I have to do it? Can’t we get busy and let some things go? All of this went through my head. But then I thought of our willow trees at school.
A friend who weaves baskets planted a willow tree on the playground of the preschool where I work. Its long branches coming right up from the ground and its abundant light green leaves provide a shady spot for small children to sit, hide and learn about the natural world. The only problem, however, is that willow wants to spread across the playground, sending shoots in large numbers from its “mother root” to various areas beneath the surface of the earth, popping up under swing, next to the slide across the yard, in the middle of the walkway. If left unattended for too long, they take over, becoming very difficult to remove. Our best bet is to regularly scan the ground, find small shoots and uproot them early when they can be pulled out with a thumb and index finger. It’s a daily job– not difficult, just a matter of being vigilant. No reason to get annoyed, really.
This work with the willow is very akin to the work that we do in nonviolence, searching to find the right means, cultivating the right ends, and when it comes to our relationships it’s a daily task. It is much easier to work with the small things: a little resentment here, a little resistance to doing the right thing that helps everyone there, and to be frank, letting all of the selfish, self-justifying interior dialogue quieten down. If something makes our relationships healthier in the long run, we can know that we are, as Gandhi suggests, planting the right seeds for the right trees to grow. So, maybe I should listen to my mother and call my niece today.
Find your equivalent of the willow shoots in your daily life and encourage yourself to regularly tend to it.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org