I was reading an article on gardening by horticulturist, Umberto Pasti, that describes the necessity of knowing how to obey in gardening. He writes, “To make a garden is to surrender so completely that you forget yourself. It is to obey. But to obey what? First of all, the quality of the soil, its exposure to light, the quantity of available water, where the water will drain and where it will remain stagnant, the climate and its extremities—the same laws that even the most pigheaded gardener is obliged to obey. Great gardens, no matter their look, are born from careful attention to the voice of nature and the desires of the genius loci, the spirit of the place.”
To obey is etymologically “to hear” or “to give ear.” This first step can lead to the even deeper activity of listening, which involves paying attention, with all of our senses. Much of the success in any undertaking, whether it is a garden, a relationship, a job, caring for a pet, raising a child, or being a manager depends on this kind of obedience. If we do not pay attention to the abilities, needs and characteristics of those from whom we expect obedience, it is like planting a cactus in a water garden and wondering why it does not thrive or even live.
Sometimes I used to feel impatient watching my father building something because it seemed to take so long. Now I get it: Obey the sharpness of the saw. Obey the nature of the wood. Obey the space to be occupied. “Measure twice; cut once.” Hearing and listening are important skills to practice. They take time when we just want to take action. It is harder to obey than to try to control.