Gifts in Garbage

Last fall, I set up my first well-researched compost pile. Rather than just throw all my food scraps in a heap and hope they’d eventually amount to something (as I’d done in the past), I studied the ideal ratios of carbon and nitrogen and built a pile accordingly, carefully layering dead corn stalks from last year’s harvest (carbon) and food scraps and green plant parts (nitrogen), with a little bit of soil in between.

All winter, that pile sat out in the elements at the end of our garden, scruffy and drab. This last month, I’ve been eyeing it from a distance. By this time, I’d expected everything to be broken down. But those corn stalks were still mightily intact.

Then, I remembered that everything doesn’t decompose at the same rate.

I decided to poke into the pile and investigate. When I did, I learned that, besides the corn stalks and some other fibrous matter, the pile had turned to delicious, deep brown, crumbly compost. I soon had the corn stalks separated out, with absolute glee that the pile had succeeded in creating rich nourishment for my seedlings out of last year’s trash.

What does this have to do with healing?

Well, as you may know by now, I’m a sucker for metaphors, and nature seems to offer them all the time. The death and waste of past seasons feeds the life and birth of this one.

My piled-up kitchen waste and dead plants did not look—or at times smell—pretty. However, in the end, the rotted stuff will support the long-term health of my garden’s soil and bring forth delicious food for my table. Likewise, the nasty, smelly, painful events from our lives often hold crucial insights and gifts that, if we claim them, can help us create what we truly desire. I believe that trying to pretend they don’t exist actually does us more harm than good. If I’d had all my food scraps and dead corn stalks hauled off to a landfill, my garden soil would never have seen the benefit of all that hard work it did to get them in the first place.

Most of us have this urge, I think, to stay away from the unsightly or uncomfortable. No matter how much I believe in compost, I didn’t relish the idea of sticking my hand (albeit gloved) into a slimy mound of partially intact food mush. However, it was my willingness to explore that pile that led to me to discover that time (and microbes) had transformed that trash into a treasure.

The same has been true for me in my own healing journey, and I’ve witnessed it again and again with my clients and friends. Sometimes we need to explore those piles of “waste,” those memories (and feelings about them) that hold the greatest discomfort or fear. Because they happened to us, these things arepart of our internal landscape whether we look at them or not. The beautiful thing is when we do decide to dig into them and really explore them with curiosity, we often discover that time (and fresh perspective) has transformed them into fuel for new life within us, perhaps even holding an antidote to the disease that ails our minds or bodies or relationships.

So: as the sun warms our earth into flowers and fruit, I also wish you good compost.

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