The Alchemy of Compost

Alchemy of Compost | | Photo credit

  A recent meandering through my garden revealed what I thought was a squash plant. Blossoms came, some were eaten by rabbits, some dried up and a few began to bear fruit. I waited patiently for them to grow, looking forward to some end of the season stir fry additions, but instead of squash, mini pumpkins began to emerge. Funny thing though, I had not planted any pumpkin seeds. A pleasant feeling washed over me when I realized these little treats were the result of the decorative pumpkins I tossed into my compost pile last year. 

The process of alchemy that happens in my compost bin has gifted me with not only excellent nutrition for my garden but some little orange surprises as well. Composting physical material makes sense and is ‘good medicine’ for the soil and our air while saving money and landfill space. A similar argument can be made for composting psychological garbage. Carrying around unresolved remnants of our past is wreaking havoc on our mental health, costing millions of dollars in health care, keeping many from living a full life and taking up way too much space in our psyches. I read a story about a therapist who had his clients write down what was bothering them on different rocks. The client then had to carry the rocks around in a sack until finally one day the sack was put down and a declaration uttered, ‘I can’t carry this around any more’. The therapist said, ‘so which ones do you want to take out’.

Composting psychological garbage can be beneficial when we learn how to view the past from another perspective and learning from our experiences. Some of my favorite questions to ask clients when stuck on wishing things were different are: what are my takeaways, what is no longer serving me and what do I want to ‘pay forward’. As spiritual teacher Ram Dass says, ‘everything is grist for the mill’ and no experience is wasted. Rituals around releasing can be helpful, also, and as simple as imagining giving one’s sorrows to the earth or writing them on a piece of paper for burning, burying or placing in moving water. My teachers often say the earth loves to receive your pain, sorrow and suffering for transmuting and recycling. 

Whether concerned about carrying around extra weight from the past or about how much physical garbage is thrown away, adding a practice of composting or releasing to one’s life can be an incredible act of reciprocity. One in which receiving is inherently linked to the act of letting go or giving away.



Don’t Just Stand There, Do Something!


In the early 1980’s I used to work for the YWCA in Richmond, VA, my initiation into the women’s movement and learning to take a stand on women’s rights. I worked in the Women’s Advocacy Program that provided services for domestic violence and sexual assault victims. My own awakening began as I dipped my toe into the reality that women made only 59 cents to every dollar a man made and 1 out of 4 women were victims of domestic violence. One of my most memorable experiences was marching on the capital for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment which was being introduced at that time. Fast forward almost 40 years later, I’m still advocating, but feeling discouraged. Not until the Women’s March this past weekend have I felt such hope that change is coming.

Participating in the march along with my adult pregnant daughter, my unborn grandchild and thousands of like minded folks in D.C. has revivified my spirit. My anguish has been so profound lately around the recent election, often wondering where is the outrage towards what is happening to us as a species and what we are doing to our planet. Watching the outpouring of support from around the world brings tears to my eyes and touches my spirit so deeply. I know evolution happens slowly and can take millions of years but it feels as if I am living it at this moment. As Eckart Tolle says In A New Earth,when comparing the evolution of flowers to the flowering of human consciousness, when the conditions were favorable, ‘a widespread flowering occurred’. When ‘a critical threshold was reached’…suddenly there would have been an explosion of color and scent all over the planet’ (2005, pg 1).

We were an ‘explosion of scent and color’ at the March and are in a wave of evolution. Now more than ever we need a collective call to action. I am writing to document this momentous occasion in our history and my own. Hopefully this is the beginning of a global movement to remember our interconnection to one another and the earth, our home. That how we are in relationship to one another and the planet is more important than how much stuff we can accumulate and turning the other way from injustice. Sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option. Even if you can’t walk, make some phone calls to your local & state officials. Your voice is powerful. Make conscious choices in your purchases and who you vote for. Here are a few resources to get you started. These offerings were shared by Molly Maher of Stratejoy: “Knowledge precedes action. When you know better, you do better.”

We still have work to do, but our tasks do not feel so heavy when shared. This post will be continued but for now I need to go make some phone calls.

Trail Magic


What do you get when you blend a seasoned guide; 12 novice female backpackers; 30 pound backpacks (including a few luxury items); 100+ continuous hours in nature; sunlit tree canopies; starry skies; fierce rain, thunder & lightening; campfires; bearscat pudding & lots of chocolate; a magical fairy forest; nurse trees; interesting thru hikers such as XL, Stoke, Legolas, Kyle, Forest & Flow (who carry musical instruments & a hula hoop); skinny dipping in a mountain stream; hiking 25 miles over varied terrain up to over 5000 feet elevation; discovering local fauna such as hawk weed, mountain laurel & tiny strawberries; learning how to hang a bear bag, heat ‘hot water’ and filter water; yummy dehydrated dinners; ponies; fern pheromones & dewy earth smells; fresh air; vistas of the mountains as far as Tennessee; shelters at Mount Rodgers, Hurricane & Wise; privies with a view & duff; camaraderie; a Ridge Runner; two truths and a lie & celebrity games; slip knots; creating trail names; chanting the Trail Goddess mantra; navigating Fat Man Squeeze and Rhododendron Gap; pack explosions; lots of rocks; penguin dancing; encouragement and tons of patience? It’s called Trail Magic. That was my recent experience with Adventures in Good Company‘s Intro to Backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. Just as advertised, I feel confident to hit the trail again solo or with some of my companions on this path. Already looking forward to my next adventure and more ‘magic’.

Do You Do The Yoga


Another snow day. Drove through the wintry mix to teach class this morning and no one showed. Always a good thing to take cues from mother nature, stay put and go inward. Instead of being irritated I chose to “do the yoga”. Had the entire room to myself. My practice now feels like a favorite piece of clothing, well worn & comfortable. My body knows what to do intuitively, without too much thinking mind. A daily drop into a pose(s) is not a burden, more of a gentle love tap & reminder that my essential self needs to be tended to and reset regularly.

Never know what I will find when I wander onto my mat from day to day. But this simple ritual teaches me to pay attention & tailor my movements to whatever is going on in my life in this moment. Over time this awareness now accompanies me, like a silent companion, off the mat & into my life providing a deeper wisdom for my daily round. So while the flakes continue to fall outside, instead of cursing the weather, try a quiet pose or two and bless the opportunity to be still, look inward and take advantage of this end of winter gift. Spring will be here before you know it along with increased activity and less opportunity to hit the pause button.

With A Grateful Heart Cont'd


“You Can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need”    –          Mick Jagger

Grab a cuppa, a cozy wrap and hang the do not disturb sign up so you can settle in on this cold winter day to read a little story, my love story……

When I close my eyes I can travel back to the winter of 2010. I was now four months into this still unfamiliar estrangement period and learning to navigate solo. Made it through the holidays and knee surgery. The climb out of this black hole my life had fallen into had begun. Little did I know that in less than two months my marriage would be mending. By January my husband had realized that the chapter of his life with his old love needed to close. The harder question for both of us to face now was whether he wanted to be married or not.

In the meantime, I was tapping into my toolbox that had been filling up over the years with skills acquired as a psychotherapist and my practices of yoga and meditation. Following my knee surgery, when all my physical practices (yoga, hiking, nature) had been taken away all I could do was breathe. When strong emotions would well up, I let them come, always coming back to my breath. Inhale, exhale, repeat was my practice. Tears came a lot during that dark time and I did not stop the waves of anger, grief, sadness and loss when they crashed to shore. When the waves retreated, however, I consciously chose different ways to be in the present. In spite of my anger my heart kept pointing towards compassion. Don’t get me wrong. I had a few Carrie Underwood, baseball bat to the headlight thoughts. Just chose to redirect them.

Somewhere along the way I learned about the giving & receiving practice of Tonglen (something the Dalai Llama did to cope with his own exile and annihilation of his people & his homeland). Tonglen is a beautiful practice that teaches us how to be present for our own suffering and the suffering of others. Frequently when my emotions were too much to bear I would breathe in any suffering my husband was experiencing and breathe out compassion for him. I knew my husband was a beautiful man wrestling with many issues of simply being human.

During my sitting times and attempts to move these boulders that had fallen onto my path, books were a comforting companion. New perspectives allowed me to shift my view of life and open myself to a deeper understanding of love. The Myth of Monogamy, A Grown Up Marriage, Undefended Love,and The New Monogamy taught me that humans are not biologically hard wired for monogamy; infidelity is very, very common; marriages can survive affairs and we can love more than one person. Most importantly a marriage can be re-envisioned and the sacred contract of matrimony can be renegotiated. Ultimately acceptance of my circumstances (not agreement with) became my new companion on this untraveled road. Sarah Ban Breathnach says ‘accepting and blessing our circumstances is a powerful tool for transformation’ and ‘ illuminates reality so that we’re better able to see the next step’. 1 Another practice, gratitude still washes over me as I remember with fondness all the support I received in person and from a distance. My parents would call to check on me and often simply listened to my tears from the other end, holding space for my grief. Friends were always close by to listen and be a loving presence for me as I figured things out.

As Joseph Campbell says when you say yes to the call, guides will appear. Many guides (I think some of them were earth angels) did appear as beacons of light to help me find my way in the darkness. One of them, without ever meeting her in person, gave me the wisest council on how to view this unasked for event. She taught me that sometimes obstacles are for our own spiritual growth and not because we had done anything wrong. Obstacles are the path says an ancient Japanese proverb and how we grow. Shifting my perspective and how I viewed what was happening changed everything. Without any proof, I just chose trust vs suffering. The choice to trust has made all the difference in my life.

My beloved and I had met in Richmond, Virginia while working at a racquetball club. We worked, played and socialized with our club ‘family’. When we said our vows all of our ‘club’ friends were witnesses to our commitment to one another. Part of my estranged spouses’ journey took him back to Richmond that Spring to play in a racquetball tournament in the same club where the roots of our relationship were established. The memory of our beginnings began to return to him along with why we got together in the first place. During his time away we stayed in touch by phone and were still very connected energetically. One day he called and I heard the lyrics to Mick Jagger’s song over the phone ….. and I knew a shift was happening.


by pimperius

The movie Avatar had come out the year my husband “went off the reservation” as one of his Aunts called his behavior. Loved that movie. One of my favorite scenes was when Neytiri placed her hand on Jakes’ heart and said “I see you.” In spite of everything I could still see my husband’s goodness and human essence. Even though I was ready to let him go, I kept holding onto a prayer of him coming back. Late in March my prayer was answered. After rediscovering the feelings from the beginning of our relationship while in Richmond, he turned his car around and headed home. The night he came back it was late and I had already retired for the night. When he climbed into bed I remember saying to him something silly like ‘do you come here often’. We had a chuckle, wrapped our arms around each other, began falling in love all over again and into a deep sleep. Both of us knowing a big weight had been lifted from our history and the re-envisioning and mending of us could now begin.

We never know what life will offer us, but we do get to choose how we respond to what is given. Being curious instead of fearful is much more fun. We don’t need all the answers and sometimes waiting for wisdom to be revealed can bring more joy than ever imagined. Adding practices of acceptance, gratitude and compassion can do wonders for the journey. One constant is that everything changes. When we learn to ride the waves of life instead of swimming against the tide you never know what will be just around the bend. Who knows, you just might get everything your soul desires.

1 Breathnach, Sarah Ban, Simple Abundance, A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, Warner Books, 1995