Monday, November 8, 2010

Honoring the Dark

My friend Donald told me recently that he believes fear is a part of what he calls "sacred rot." He is a gardener who loves not only the beautiful things he grows, but the dirt, too. He calls compost "holy." He really gets the business of decay, how that process feeds the cycles of life.

Here at the very beginning of the dark quarter of the year, thanks to Donald, I'm thinking a lot about sacred rot, holy compost. Once upon a time I looked at all failed projects and endeavors (like my marriage, for instance) as a total waste. Maybe nothing needs to be thought of as a waste, provided I'm willing to sow the seeds of my mistakes into my heart and soul (rather than trying to ignore, detach, or jetison from them). I always thought that learning from my mistakes meant rising above them, but I might have been wrong about that.

What is a mistake? I ask my clients that question all the time, in an effort to lighten their sense of guilt or remorse over choices they've made. I'm looking back on many choices I've made, situations I've fallen into and subsequently out of, relationships that were never meant to be. I've been berating myself for my enthusiasms, but maybe I could stop that way of thinking right now. You think? I'm going to give it a shot.

Mistakes are holy compost, sacred rot. Or ... they CAN be. What a revelation.


To enrich the earth I have sowed clover and grass
to grow and die. I have plowed in the seeds
of winter grains and of various legumes,
their growth to be plowed in to enrich the earth.
I have stirred into the ground the offal
and the decay of the growth of past seasons
and so mended the earth and made its yield increase.
All this serves the dark. I am slowly falling
into the fund of things. And yet to serve the earth,
not knowing what I serve, gives a wideness
and a delight to the air, and my days
do not wholly pass. It is the mind’s service,
for when the will fails so do the hands
and one lives at the expense of life.
After death, willing or not, the body serves,
entering the earth. And so what was heaviest
and most mute is at last raised up into song.

--Wendell Barry


jeanette from everton terrace said...

What is a mistake, wow. Kind of stopped me in my tracks, that's a big question. The first thing I thought of was the word library. It was the word that got me 2nd place in my elementary school spelling bee - I missed it but have never forgotten how to spell it so was it really a mistake? When my daughter and her boyfriend recently broke up (thank goodness) I told her not to think of him as a mistake but as a learing lesson, even though I knew he was a mistake from the start HA HA.

Reya Mellicker said...

Donald tried to post this, but somehow was unable to sign in (don't know why)

"From my trip to the Roadhouse of the Dead yesterday afternoon:

Let the compost transform the rot within and without.
Let the compost transform the putrified heart and mind.
... Let the compost transform the home of hatred and fear.
Let the beings of compost awaken to joy under healthy soil and living water."

Reya Mellicker said...

Jeanette - it's all in our point of view, eh?

Dan Gurney said...

Suzuki Roshi once said, "My whole life has been a continuous mistake!" I love the Wendell Berry poem. Rot on!

Tess Kincaid said...

I love the notion of holy compost, and it all being part of the circle of life. Thanks for this lovely nugget of info to chew on today.

Harlequin said...

Wow, Reya. This is a complete revelation. I can almost feel the effect of this concept reverberate through me, shuffling me up inside. Wow.

I love the idea of actively sowing our intentions into the soil of our past mistakes. What a novel idea!! I'm sure there's a shamanic ritual that could be designed around this.

Amen to holy compost and sacred rot!

ellen abbott said...

My favorite part of gardening is working the soil, adding the compost and sand if need be to make it rich and inviting to life.

As for mistakes, made a million. Or rather had a million learning experiences. I used to think my first marriage was the biggest mistake of my life until I realized how much i learned from it.

Nancy said...

Loved this post, Reya. We need the mistakes to know what we want, I think. I call it "trying on shoes." I especially resonated with the sacred rot. Nothing wasted!

Reya Mellicker said...

Rot on? That is hilarious!

Amen indeed.

I'm telling ya, Donald is a GREAT teacher. I've known him a long long time. I continue to learn from him - it's miraculous.

steven said...

wow i love wendell berry's writing reya. you know mistakes or failures are easier to understand, sometimes even easier to accept if you think of them as brian eno does as "hidden intentions". the hidden intention of a soul on its journey through your life as a human being on this plane of existence. mistakes are only mistakes if there's no chance to learn from them i think . . . yeah? i think yeah! steven

Kerry said...

Thank you Reya. I needed this.

Reya Mellicker said...

Steven? I think yeah!!

Whitney Lee said...

I like to think I've learned something from my mistakes. I've definitely learned that the definition of mistake is a matter of personal perception and often changes with time. There are some things I've labeled mistakes that I've later changed my mind about...I now label them growth experiences!

37paddington said...

love the new header. amazing photograph.

Angela said...

It is one of the sentences I pass on to my pupils (they love to learn English in my garden, digging out potatoes and getting their hands dirty): "You can´only expect to harvest again next year if you give something back to the garden soil. Look at my humus. It is all made of decayed plants. Feel it. And remember." And they do.

Reya Mellicker said...

I bet they do, Angela!

Merle Sneed said...

Reya, what we learn always makes us better. Sometime we learn what to do and sometimes we learn what not to do.

Either way we emerge the better for it.