I grew up in the 80’s when the entire world watched nuclear disaster movies and made lists of the things that would survive in a post-apocalyptic world. Most people said cockroaches would survive. I know something even more indestructible.
Mint can survive anything. You can dig it up. It returns. Light it on fire with a blowtorch. It’s back. Prune it, it grows through the window and says “Whazzzuppp!” by the next morning.
I hate pruning plants. I always feel bad that I’m killing potential flowers or lessening the food supply. Like somehow that bud will lose its chance to survive because I shaped and cut. Maybe that’s true, but mint makes me think differently.
First, it makes me think of resilience. Survival. Marching forward and making the best of the worst of circumstances. Mint cannot be defeated–it refuses to surrender. It thrives anywhere with any plant. It grows in cracks of sidewalks and peeks up yards away from where it was originally planted. It’s a horticultural Criss Angel.
But after a while, it always chokes things out. Last week, I was clipping it to add to salads and ice tea. This week, it’s crowding out the entire two acres. As someone who wants nothing more than to be able to go out to the yard and pick my entire dinner for the whole season, I sit in glee and think of all the tabouleh salad, iced tea, mint ice cream, and pestos I can make, but truth is, there’s only so much of a good thing that is useful. And so it’s time to pull some out.
Sometimes it’s good to prune. To take out excess. To shape the garden. Even if it means you have to toss some stuff aside.
No different from life, I think. Keeping the relationships that improve us, letting the ones go that served us in another time, and simplifying, cutting out the things that can easily claim our best time and energy. Learning that less really is more, and that productivity increases when we can see around all the flowers, when our garden takes shape–it becomes more resilient. When we keep what matters and toss the rest, the rest thrives.
Japanese philosophy says this well.
Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s 1716 work, says “Among one’s affairs there should not be more than two or three matters of what one could call great concern.” Written three years before his death, Hagakure serves as a guide to samurai both in battle and in life. By the time this was written, Yamamoto Tsunetomo was well off the battlefield and into the monastery. Like so many great warriors, he transferred the lessons of the battlefield to the lessons of life. Tactics, science, and philosophy are one in the same, for all intents and purposes. They work universally–anywhere you take the time to notice and apply them.
Japanese philosophy from three hundred years ago is no different from psychology today. I find it amazing that the lessons Yamamoto Tsunetomo shared several hundred years ago can be found in my plants, and subsequently applie to my life, but if I stop, get rid of all but those important two or three things, and “prune some mint,” it all begins to take shape, leaving the rest of the day to be amazed at the simplicity and drink some mint tea.