Jan 082024

Imagine that you can tap into a major new source of energy and insight, that’s already within you: it’s free, abundant, and just needs a bit of effort to process it.

What’s more, you’ll be creating benefits out of problems that drain energy and pollute your inner ecosystem.  This is what composting offers you.

The ancient alchemists sought to turn base matter into gold.  Composting in gardens and farms achieves this.  It starts with rubbish, animal crap, rotting vegetable matter, even weeds.  All this “waste”, useless in these forms, ends up as humus, highly fertile, rich in biological activity, able to renew the earth’s vitality.

Recycling your waste gives your garden a free source of energy which raises the vitality and resilience of your soil, and avoids the pollution and depletion caused by artificial fertiliser. Physical composting takes several months – but the human equivalent can happen in minutes, days or weeks.  Plant and animal waste usually looks bad, and smells worse.  Yet it’s a major supply of natural energy, if only we can change its form.  And the same is true of human energy waste: composting this is a vital element of super-resilience.

This may be a new idea for you, and it’s an example of how the natural happiness approach can help you see your life differently, and discover new resources.  By human energy waste, I don’t mean car exhaust fumes or old plastic cups: I mean personal energy that’s stuck or stagnant in a negative form.  Here are some examples:

  • Physical: stress and toxins that build up in your body, due to anxiety, unhealthy food and drink, etc.
  • Emotional: negative feelings like anger or depression, and unresolved conflicts.
  • Mental: habitual worrying, going round in circles in your mind, about big issues or everyday ones.
  • Inspirational: a sense of hopelessness or pointlessness about aspects of your own life and work, or the state of the world.

Most of us carry a lot of negative energy, stuck in our ecosystem.  The first two steps are starting to notice it, and having faith that you can compost at least some of this into a source of positive energy.

Five Tips for Good Composting in Practice

There are several methods of composting.   In this chapter, I’m referring to hot aerobic composting, because it offers the best parallel for the human system.

This summary of the main principles of hot aerobic composting shows how they can apply to human energy waste.  To get the benefit of the composting process, waste materials have to be gathered, sorted, and brought together.  This is an investment of labour, and when you’re dealing with smelly waste it may not be very pleasant!  In the same way, your first step is to identify and gather some of the waste in your life and work.  This requires patience, good observation, and resilience.  Your waste may include difficult feelings and festering situations that smell nasty, and you might rather bury them.

1.     Gathering your rubbish

You need to see where it has been buried, suppressed or thrown out. Start with physical waste, reviewing tensions and health issues.  Then consider mental waste: insoluble problems, unresolved questions.  Why did that friendship or that project fail?  Facing such questions reveals their emotional content: many issues that may seem quite rational also involve our feelings.  Observe your feelings as clearly as you can: this is part of the collection stage.

Next, gather the emotional waste, identifying negative feelings and where you feel stressed.  Go into this, identify the sources, such as particular situations or relationships.  Keep breathing as you do this, aerating the compost.  Explore any negative feelings, such as fear, anxiety, uncertainty, anger.  Think of these waste feelings as a flow of energy that is stuck, and see what outcome would unblock them.  Possibly you are angry because someone has not acknowledged you, or fearful because you haven’t faced the implications of a problem situation.

Negative inspirational energy can be the most depleting and difficult to face.  A sense of pointlessness is like a major pollution problem: pervasive and hard to clear.  Use the parallel with air pollution: it can arise from one main source like a dirty factory, or from a diffuse problem like road traffic.  Either way, a systemic change is probably needed: a switch to clean energy sources and processes, and more recycling.

In counselling it is often said that expressing a problem is already half way to resolving it.  Gathering and identifying your waste issues is a significant step in the recycling process.  And avoid judging yourself or the issue as far as possible.

2.     Sorting and Heaping

If you’ve done your gathering thoroughly, by now you may be feeling rather daunted and overwhelmed.  The sorting stage should help.

In garden composting, you don’t put all waste on the heap: some stuff is hard to break down, or simply unsuitable.  Especially when you’re starting on human energy composting, pace yourself, and don’t tackle the big issues too soon.  Build up your skills and confidence by starting on smaller, easier issues, and getting some early wins.

Typically physical and mental issues are easier to compost than emotional or inspirational ones, and work or practical problems may be easier than family and community issues.  In human composting, some issues may be so big that you need professional help: for example a marriage breakup, or a life-threatening illness.  Be realistic about the issues you can tackle yourself.

You build your compost heap by facing your waste issues fully and deeply.  If this leaves you feeling overwhelmed or despairing, just allow the feeling, observe it, and don’t deny it or judge it.  Keep your sense of purpose and perspective: remember that you are more than your feelings.  Adapt the Buddhist mantra: “I feel fearful, but I am not my fear.”  And ensure that you have support available to you.

3.     Air Supply

A plentiful supply of air is essential to fuel the biological activity in the hot aerobic composting process.  If the air supply is inadequate, some or all of the heap will not reach peak temperature, and some waste material won’t break down.

For your own composting, this means that when you feel strong emotions, keep breathing! Deeper breathing is a classic way to stay steady amid intense, difficult feelings.  Mindfulness methods are just one example, so if you feel tense and distressed by your composting, try to slow your breathing and deepen it, for several minutes. Try deep, ‘circular’ breathing where you imagine pulling negative energy up from your belly into your lungs to cleanse it, and breathing clear energy back down again.


4.     Turning

To get the full benefit of the composting process, it is common to turn the heap after a few weeks.  Turning the compost heap increases the air supply and renews the recycling process.  The effect is to achieve fuller breakdown of the waste and higher humus content.

You may find that composting your energy waste takes anything from minutes to months: some issues are bigger and tougher.  In human terms, turning your compost means reviewing your progress, and linking what may be a grungy process of recycling to a bigger sense of purpose.  When you remind yourself this is about feeling happier and re-energised, it will help you persist.  Aeration is about connecting to your inspiration and the bigger picture, and using deep breathing to gather the positive energy from your tensions.

5.     Group Composting

A lot of negative human energy arises and gets stuck in our relationships with others, both individuals and in groups. Composting in these situations requires some different skills, as well as adapting the methods just described. In particular, skills in clear communications and listening are important, such as assertiveness or Non-violent Communication (less drastic than it sounds!). The other key technique is conflict resolution, see separate Resource for this).

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