The way I see it, people are generally divided into two categories. There are for instance, those who lose weight when they are under stress, and those who gain weight. I am in the latter category. And there are those who prefer to eat what they love, and those who desire to try something new or bizarre. I am also in the latter category in this one. My husband is in the former category which means that he orders basic food, I order strange food, and then I convince him to trade meals with me when I hate what I ordered. I’ve concluded this is basically good for his character development.
Another way people are divided into two categories is evident at the end of a work day. There are those who conclude their day with a clean desk, everything filed away and a pen calmly resting in an appropriate place to represent the work that has been done. On the other hand there are people like me, whose desk at this minute has 13 sticky notes, five piles, two collections of 3X5 cards, a journal, half a cup of coffee (from two days ago), three or four printed out emails, two thank you cards and an unframed picture of one of my grandkids. And that isn’t even the clutter on my desk – just the work.
You might think a person like me doesn’t have a ‘system’ of organization, but that is a misperception. I do have a system. You cannot understand my system of course, but it is real and helpful and productive and mostly in my head. (Your clean alphabetical system is also a mystery to me, so we are even.)
If you were standing beside me now waiting for me to get off the phone for instance, and you sifted through the information on my desk you might think my desk is a dead end, perhaps a rubbish heap. Again, a misconception. Don’t think rubbish. Think compost. Let me explain.
Composting is a process of layering clean organic material in such a way as to allow it to transform into a nutritional mix of rich soil. What is composted is all good on its own terms – flowers, grass, leaves, banana peels, but together they become something more. A compost bin is a living synergy of complexity and potential. And time is the secret ingredient. Go slow and let life materialize.
J.R.R. Tolkien said his writing emerged from ‘the leaf mold of my mind.’ (I think his desk maybe looked like mine.) Picture yourself hiking through a beautiful forest, with the ground soft and deep under your feet. The sky is peaking through the thinning canopy of trees as they surrender timeworn leaves to the mulch below. You smell the composting going on – you call it ‘fresh air’ or a ‘forest smell’. What you smell is the life of tomorrow. Tolkien imagined his mind like this forest floor from which mushroomed delightful thoughts and fodder for all manner of fantastical images. Composting creates beautiful complexity.
My work is focused on community building, and the nurture of souls. Without question, others could do this work beautifully and with a completely different style. But the way I function with projects and tasks, allowing them to overlap and steep in the juices of the other, is a means of creating complexity and encountering possibility.
Think about how we eat. Sometimes eating is like putting gas in the car. Simple food, quickly swallowed, and off we go. Other times, a beautiful chocolate is savored and tasted and felt. Add a sip of a rich fruity drink and the chocolate will become even more complex in flavor. Two completely unique experiences. Two distinctive purposes.
Perhaps the real reason composting my projects and ideas works is because it requires time. I mull. Sometimes I mull all day, go to bed with my pondering thoughts dripping through a strainer, and in the morning a complete idea is there, waiting to be picked and used. My mind is very much a garden. I sometimes tell students to plant a beautiful garden in your mind and then when you are to speak or share, simply bend and pick something from your garden to give. People usually do it the other way. They don’t plant anything in their garden, they don’t have a composting bin, and when they are given a chance to share they speak ideas like they had read them in a book. (Because they just did.)
So I will keep on composting projects, and ideas, and people’s needs, and quotes, and possibilities on my desktop and in my brain. I will add love and wait. What the compost becomes – who knows? It might leave dirt under my fingernails, but it also might fertilize the community or feed some dear soul.
Marilyn Elliott is a member of the Soul Care Collective Steering Committee.