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.