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You Can't Always Get What You Want

You can’t always get what you want

The gardens I have now are the first ones that I created mostly from scratch. Until this house, I’d been lucky to inherit gardens from the previous owners. Thanks to being the daughter of someone with both a green thumb and a really good eye, when I first started digging in this yard, I had lots of opinions and ideas about the plants with which I wanted to fill it.

While I had a vision as I first happily wandered the aisles of our local nursery, what I didn’t have was a clear understanding of my yard. I didn’t really know what kind of light each section got over the course of a day or as the seasons changed. I didn’t know about the very wet back corner or how dry it would get under the towering oak. In short, I knew what I wanted but I didn’t know what I needed.

Much of the old-fashioned, “English garden,” flowering perennials that I put in that first year did OK for a year or two. But by the critical third season, when perennials either decide to stay put and burst into glory or just kind of give up with a fizzle, my garden was clearly fizzling. Lucky for me, I’d learned a thing or two about my yard by then.

Sometimes you have to get what you need

More importantly, I’d learned that in gardens, as in life, you really do have to work with the hand you’re dealt. Not even the best gardeners can grow roses in a shady corner or foxgloves in clay-like soil. Nope. You’ve got to plan a shade garden in that soggy corner and leave the foxgloves to gardeners with lush, loamy soil.

The Rolling Stones offer some super helpful advice,

“No, you can’t always get what you want.
You can’t always get what you want.
You can’t always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes, you’ll find
You get what you need.”

Which is how I finally created my first stable, flourishing garden – by accepting what I needed rather than being determined to get what I wanted.

Letting go of what we want is never easy

What you may not glean as you bop along to the Stones, is just how hard the “try sometimes” bit can be. To make this shift we must do some detaching. In other words, to accept or receive what we need, we have to let go of what we want.

This is not easy. Clinging to what we want or to what we don’t want seems to be hardwired into us humans. Letting go or detaching takes effort. And not just one-time effort. For 99% of us, we will need a lifetime to practice noticing when we’re clinging, understanding the emotions or reactions that are causing us to cling, and gently allowing the light of our awareness to gradually loosen our grip.

Because life is constantly changing, what we want and need is also constantly changing

Learning to let go doesn’t take a lifetime because we’re stubborn, willful humans (though most of us are). Letting go is a practice for a lifetime because as life changes (which it will do until the day we die), so does our clinging. Let me return to my garden to explain.

As the years have gone by, I’ve learned that gardens, like life, change endlessly. Change can be sudden, as it was when our enormous oak died. Change can also be so gradual that you don’t even notice it is happening, as when our neighbors’ new trees along our shared fence grew in. If you don’t go with the flow of change, your beloved plants will struggle or die.

It took me a season or two to become aware that what had been sunny was now shaded and what had been shaded was now bathed in blazing sun all day long. This new awareness allowed me to see that I had been unwittingly clinging to the way things had been. I, the gardener, needed to let go of my plans, and choose instead to plant for new conditions in my garden that I had neither chosen nor desired.

Letting go helps us thrive

The plants I’ve chosen in the last few years agree with the Stones:

“You can’t always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes, you’ll find
You get what you need.”

They are thriving. As will you and I when we let go and embrace life as it is. Again and again and again.

Mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation help to develop the self-awareness that we need to navigate change gracefully. Want to learn more? Let’s talk!