Composting the Messy Stuff

This month’s Mindful Writing session focused upon the organic process of composting, which turns discarded materials from our meals, gardens, and lives into a rich medium that enhances growth. Learn more below, and register for the remaining 2021 Mindful Writing events: Extending Thanks to Nature (November) and Sharing Nature Gifts (December).

The methods of composting can vary – from worm bins (known as vermicomposting) to traditional composting piles that utilize homemade or commercially purchased containers. Composting requires the collaboration of many macro- and micro-organisms, including worms, slugs, spiders, nematodes, mites, fungi, and bacteria, which aid in decomposition and improve soil fertility. Healthy, happy soil = healthy, happy plants.

Amending our own mind/body health also helps us grow good things.

As a long-time edible gardener, I love to use leftovers from my yard and kitchen to create organic compost that I can integrate back into the garden. Autumn is my favorite time of the year. Trees dazzle us with their palette of fall colors and also supply us with an abundance of free leaves – perfect for the foundation of a new compost bin or vermicomposting system.

Similarly, in my role as a psychologist, I’ve always been interested in how stressful life events can open new doorways and promote growth, often in unexpected ways. In this month’s Mindful Writing session, I invited each of us to reflect upon experiences that might have “composted” into new possibilities and connections.

One example I give from my own life is our family’s car accident, which occurred in 2018 on a rural road near our former Oregon farm. While the accident still impacts us – physically and psychologically, it also provided us with an opportunity to reflect upon our family’s needs, strengths, and values. These days, we appreciate our health, and one another, more deeply. This life-changing event also led us to pursue several much-discussed transitions, including a recent move to Seattle.

Harvested worm castings

Resilience can be defined as resources and strategies that help us navigate through and “bounce back” from crises. Examples of resilience might include building community connections, basic self-care skills, and creative outlets to process emotions. Many of us have reached for these ways of coping – and surviving, over the past year.

A concept known to psychologists as post-traumatic growth involves some degree of struggle and may result in significant life changes (not just a return to “normal”) when we emerge on the other side of particularly difficult experiences. Often, the process of post-traumatic growth is slow, occurs beneath the surface, and requires time and patience – not unlike composting. We, too, may benefit from the support of a community system and assistance from therapists, friends, and spiritual leaders.

“Our suffering is the compost that allows beautiful flowers to grow.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, Love Letter to the Earth

The SAVOR Project’s Mindful Writing sessions are just one opportunity to grow from life’s experiences, reflecting upon what we hear from nature (outside, and within ourselves) while applying a mindful stance of curiosity and compassion. The therapeutic writing framework I use is informed by mindful writing books and training with Natalie Goldberg, my several years of writing studios, and Narrative Medicine workshops.

However, there are many different ways to integrate mindfulness into writing (including this mindful writing practice and any of the suggested exercises from this positive psychology resource). In the coming months, I encourage you to experiment with new ways to nourish mind, body, and soul.

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