Below is one of my favorite entries by Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, Peace is Every Step. In the entry he likens our anger to compost and how these unwanted feelings like anger have the potential to serve a greater and necessary purpose in the cultivation of our soul in the same way that rotten food scraps utilized as compost serve the growth and nourishment for beautiful flowers, crops, etc…
“When we are angry, our anger is our very self. To suppress or chase it away is to suppress or chase away our self. When we are joyful, we are the joy. When we are angry, we are the anger. When anger is born is us, we can be aware that anger is an energy in us, and we can accept that energy in order to transform it into another kind of energy. When we have a compost bin filled with organic material which is decomposing and smelly, we know that we can transform the waste into beautiful flowers. At first, we may see the compost and the flowers as opposite, but when we look deeply, we see that the flowers already exist in the compost, and the compost already exists in the flowers. It only takes a couple of weeks for a flower to decompose. When a good organic gardner looks into her compost, she can see that, and she does not feel sad or disgusted. Instead, she values the rotting material and does not discriminate against it. It takes only a few months for compost to give birth to flowers. We need the insight and non-dual vision of the organic gardner with regard to our anger. We need not be afraid of it or reject it. We know that anger can be a kind of compost, and that it is within its power to give birth to something beautiful. We need anger in the way the organic gardner needs compost. If we know how to accept our anger, we already have some peace and joy. Gradually we can transform anger completely into peace, love, and understanding.”
This staying with anger is no easy task. About a month ago I entered a 21 day sugar and caffeine cleanse. During this process of detoxification it shocked me how angry I became. There were literally days that I didn’t even want to be around myself I was so angry. I couldn’t tell you what I was angry about or who I was angry at…I was just angry. I read this entry by Hanh around this time so I practiced staying with and welcoming the anger. Since then I’ve continued this practice of welcoming unwanted feelings like anxiety, sadness, dizziness, etc. It doesn’t make experiencing the difficult feelings any easier, however, it does diffuse the feelings of much of their power. Rather than trying to push them away and slamming the door on these feelings, I open the door and invite the feelings into my mind. The simple art of inviting unwanted feelings to share space in your mind is such a foreign and counter intuitive move for me, but it’s working.
I’m also realizing that when I do this it often times opens the feelings to unpack themselves, almost like releasing their energy into gas or particles in the heart and mind. I guess this is what Hanh means when he says anger can serve us like compost does for an organic garden. The decaying matter releases it’s energy breaking down into tiny pieces over time emitting its composition as nourishment to the earth. So too in theory does our decomposing unwanted feelings decay when invited and released into our selves. They breakdown and emit their presence as healing insight into who we are or perhaps elements we’ve long stored in our psyche.
Anger as compost…I like this concept and will report back as I continue to practice this new way of navigating these awkward unwanted feelings.