How Grass Made Me Weedy

One conclusion I drew from grass is that I hate gardening. (free public domain:

I lost many hours of my boyhood to the weed commonly known as grass. This happened during the 1960s, but I only learned much later that it was supposedly part of finding my path in life.

Why is it so difficult for us to find our own path? And then walk it? And why, once found, do we invariably stray, only to stumble back onto it later on? I have experienced this on-off walking style for some years now, and I think I know what causes our difficulties. Perceptions. Not just any perceptions, but our perceptions of reality. And it is with understanding reality that something as practical as grass should help us.

We often stray from our path and stumble back on, back and forth, as we reinterpret reality using fresh signs along the way. But as we learn in looking back, these are not strictly new signs. We did not recognise them when first encountered because we did not know what we were looking at. We did not recognize them as signs along the way, mainly because we lazily take shortcuts in our walking and in our thinking.

Our predilection for mental shortcuts causes all our troubles. Not only do shortcuts lead to individual perceptual errors. They also create the variability of human perception. And when two humans cannot agree on what they see, one human must persuade the other to see the light. For it is the nature of humans to help one another, even when the other does not want to be helped. (Here is the first hint to finding your path: Someone somewhere will try to help you onto a path, regardless of whether you feel like walking it.)

They say that grass, or weed, intensifies human perceptions. I agree, because my early experience with grass made me acutely aware of the variability of human perceptions. At that young age I had not yet heard of “the variability of human perceptions.” But I came to suspect that two people can look at the same object and see two different things. Or, at least, draw different conclusions. Especially if those two people included a parent. Or you.

How did you interpret my statement that I lost many hours to weed or grass? Did you assume that I meant the weed that some people smoke to experience a different reality from the one they are not living? Or did you realize that I meant the grass that other people mow repeatedly (and then again) to create a different reality to what Mother Nature intended?

(Can you guess which group, the smokers or the mowers, are actually abnormal? Yes, it depends on whether you are the smoker or the mower. See how easy it is to understand “the variability of human perceptions”?)

One conclusion I drew from grass is that I hate gardening. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t appreciate a beautiful and weed-free garden. It’s that I hate what it takes to keep it that way. When I was a boy, it took me.

One of my weekly growing-up tasks was to mow the grass. A companion task was to trim the edges where the grass insisted on growing into my mother’s flowerbeds. (Note: Not my flowerbeds, but my mother’s flowerbeds. A second hint to finding your path: Ownership seeds commitment.) The type of grass that I had to tame does not grow vertical so much as horizontal. And fast. Its lattice of runners made a fantastic surface to play on. But these same runners made it a challenge to control. It spread quickly and constantly where, according to my mother, it was unwelcome.

That’s when I learned to appreciate the saying that a weed is nothing more than a plant in the wrong place. On the playing side of the border, we nurtured the grass with fertilizer and water until it was a much admired lawn. On the flower side, we labeled it a weed, dug it up and destroyed it. Every week. I did.

And so I spent my Friday afternoons or Saturday mornings, my choice, (A hint to finding your path: It is your choice. Don’t let others choose for you.)…. And so I spent my Friday afternoons or Saturday mornings, my choice, on my knees in the sun digging out shoots of runaway grass. In summer it was worse. Not only was the African sun much hotter, the grass/weed grew twice as fast. This meant that I often wasted my Wednesday afternoons mowing the grass into lawn and weeding the grass into oblivion.

Here’s a stranger thing. My mother never thought I was wasting my time. (Another hint to finding your path: Other people have no qualms about wasting your time, and will do so, until your paths diverge. Or until you put your foot down. On your path.)

I’ll say this for that grass. It kept me weedy. All that mowing and weeding kept me scrawny and lanky. When it came time to frolic on that lawn, I was a lean, mean playing machine.

That, then, is the story of how my mother, without knowing it, taught me that grass or weed simply depends on where you stand. Where you stand is your frame of reference. On the playing side you frame grass as lawn, and on the flower side you frame grass as weed. Simple.

Here’s what is still not simple to me. I understand that what is in my mind is the product of my frame of reference. But does what is in my mind not create, or at a minimum influence, my frame of reference? Surely we have enough psychological and neurological evidence to understand that seeing is not believing. We tend to see what we already believe. (Have you seen any UFOs lately? Which is another hint: Your path is your path because of the weird things only you can see on it.)

But I digress. Let’s get back to that frame of reference, the one that is supposed to help you get the picture by ignoring the gilded frame.

Years after giving up on my mother’s weed, I learned that psychologist had a term for this “how you look at it.” They call it epistemology. According to them, epistemology has to do with the way we make sense of the world, which influences how we think and thus how we act. (Unless you are one of the growing number of people who seem to act before they think. There might also be a word for that.)

Let me give you an example of epistemology in action. I would stand in the flowerbed digging up the weed, look longingly at the lawn and think, “Soon I’m going to play on it.” My mother would stand on the lawn, look at me in her flowerbed looking at the lawn, and think, “If he doesn’t get on with it, I’ll…” Same planet, same garden, similar genes, different epistemologies.

There were many other cases where my epistemology did not overlap with my mother’s epistemology. Not that I would have dared to tell her that. She was quick with the soap-in-the-mouth epistemology if I used words that sounded suspicious from her frame of reference. (Which leads me to another hint: On your path you will find that one person’s epistemology is another person’s dogma; and it will be your karma to decide which is which.)

With the benefit of experience, which is hindsight with bite, I know why my mother and I saw the same garden differently. Perceptions. I could be wrong, but I think we build our frame of reference on our perceptions. Perception is the way we process, interpret and give meaning to the information we receive via our senses. (Here’s another hint: My perceptions might be wrong, but they’re mine! Stated differently, my path might be wrong, but it’s mine!)

Here’s the catch with perceptions on your path. To what extent, weed or no weed, does what you perceive correspond with reality? Surely, we can only refer to perception as being objective if there is agreement in all respects, and aspects, between what really exists in the world around us and our perception of it. The problem is, of course, to achieve this state of objective perception we must add nothing, leave nothing out, distort nothing, and misrepresent nothing in what we perceive. Yet, we all reconstruct and interpret reality by relying on our past and our experiences…. which built our frame of reference. I think. (Another hint: Your path will often have you thinking or saying, “I think.” If you often think or say, “I’m sure”, then think again. You might be on the wrong path.)

But with all that said, what I think I know is this. There is no reality without interpretation. And we all make our own unique interpretations.

Here’s the knock-out. If every person makes his or her unique interpretation of reality, then there are as many realities as there are people! Intuitively, we know this cannot be. If each one of us creates our unique construction of reality, then our ability to communicate, tricky enough as it is, would be impossible. To ensure that at least some form of communication is possible, we have agreed to share a common meaning of reality. Through these shared meanings, our differing perceptions become similar, but not the same. (Another hint: Two paths might look similar, but only you can tell where yours is not the same.)

This merely means that we agree how we will collectively perceive and interpret our joint reality. However, different societies can, and do, reach a different consensus as to their shared meanings of reality. For example, Eskimos, apparently, have three original words for what they see as three different types of snow. If I were to visit with Eskimos, I would only see “snow” and I would likely get lost, sink into snow drifts or worse. Yet, if I lived as an Eskimo for some time, I would come to “see” different types of snow. How come? Because my life could depend on it.

And because my life no longer depends on mowing and weeding, grass is grass. (Which reminds me of another hint for you on your path: Even though the grass on the other path seems greener, it is still only grass.)

The crux of the matter lies less in perception itself than in what we do with our perceptions. For once we have taken in information via our sense, we process it and transform it until it makes sense to us. Or as psychologists would have it, we “attribute meaning.” (Another hint: Your path is your path because you attributed it to you. You give it all the meaning it has for you.)

The problem, however, is that we tend not to differentiate between what is really “out there” (facts) and the deduction we make from the facts. We live in a world where facts have become like perceptions, purely subjective. I attribute meaning to facts depending on where on my path I stand looking through which frame of reference at what chosen epistemology. (That was another hint.)

Today it is a fact that I perceive my son as having the attributes to mow the grass and kill the weeds. That, combined with my current epistemology, which deems it inappropriate for me to frolic on my path or on the lawn, is why my frame of reference, aka my physique, is no longer weedy.

(And herewith the final hint: Your path is merely the way you attribute excuses for your current state of being.)

Originally published at



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James McIntosh

James McIntosh


Born in RSA winelands. Earned 3 degrees drinking red wine. Chased by lioness, ran with elephants, got bored, moved to USA seeking adventure. Ex-CEO now coach.