Poetics of Compost

Excerpt from “The Poetics of Compost” by Redwood Reider

Compost is the most magic alchemy I know: huge piles of the stuff no one wants, transmuting into divine elixir that nourishes life. It feels like a hopeful metaphor for all the shit that happens to us, and ecological renewal, and social change. Sometimes, destruction gives birth to new life. Sometimes, massive change comes about through many humble, tiny beings (microbes… or humans) working in sync.

I did not expect the following to become one of my most-requested poems. It was just supposed to be for a dear friend & gardening teacher while we were each going through our own rough times of inner composting. But apparently some other people besides me really, really love compost. I often hesitate to share my poems written down because they were made for speaking and breathing, so maybe you can read it aloud. To your compost pile.

–Redwood Reider


To make good compost, you need mostly:

  • A source of carbon (woody biomass);
  • A sprinkling of nitrogen (kitchen scraps, clippings of grass, or anything that fell out of an animal’s ass);
  • a diversity of materials to make it nutritionally rich, in the right ratios so it burns hot enough to kill twitch.


  • a sprinkling of water;
  • some straw to cover;
  • and a deep appreciation for
    Great Mother.

To make good compost,
you’ve got to have a
soul appreciation
that creation
comes out
of the break
of all that we

To make good compost, it helps
if you’re a warrior of love.
It helps if you understand & track movements of
planets spinning
through constellations above.

To make good compost, if helps if you know how
to dance (well that’s not scientifically proven but
you might as well dance.)

To make good compost, you’ve got to depend on
what you can’t see,
stand outside on freezing winter nights
shoveling the great steaming mystery
running up hills grasping panting with loss
sitting in the starwell sobbing in frustration
beating our drums, beating our chests, howling
at the moon for a while –

It’s all part of the pile.

You’ve got to embrace giving, to go on living.

Nothing would ever grow again
if the cell wall of
the woodbark
refused to fall apart,
to recombine.

Nothing holds on
as hard as our minds.

To make good compost, you’ve got to be
willing to crack open.

You’ve got to be willing to rearrange
even if people look at you strange, you’ve got to be
willing to surrender
to the forces of nature
and you know that something dies
but something lives forever.

You’ve got to be willing to wait and
and wait …

and willing to burn from within
in the faith that you will break down but you
will rise and grow again till again, Holy One,
you break down
and again emerge in new form
sprouting tender and green
from the ground.

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The Mind of Non-Discrimination

Post from Kosmos Journal titles “Thich Nhat Hanh on the Consciousness of Things

Is the consciousness of a flower or a cat equal to that of a human being? Do non-living things have consciousness? In 2014, at the University of Virginia, astrophysicist, Dr. Trinh Xuan Thuan asked the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh, (Thay to his students), to explain. Thay’s response is both uplifting and humbling.

Transcript of Thích Nhất Hạnh reply

“When we look into our cells as a human being we see that the human being is made only of non-human elements. We have the mineral element in us, we have the element of vegetable in us and we have the element ‘animal’ in us. Not only do we have human ancestors but we also have animal ancestors and vegetable ancestors and also mineral ancestors; and our ancestors do not belong only to the past – they belong to the present. They are fully present in us. Without them we cannot see the way we see, we cannot think the way we think, we cannot live the way we live. And the electron is also in us. So when I produce a thought every ancestors in me including the mineral, vegetable and animal ancestors, collaborate with me in order to produce that thought.

It’s like when you see – you look at the tree. That is not the job of only your eyes, as you know very well. Without the brain, without the blood, without the cells in your body, without all that, the ‘seeing’ would be an impossible thing for eyes.

When the eyes ‘see’ the whole body is participating in the act of seeing. When we produce a thought, when we reason, when we create music, when we do mathematics, not only a number of neurons are doing so, but the whole body – the whole lineage of ancestors in us are participating in producing that thought.

So looking like that you see that you are made of ‘non-you’ elements and that the non-you elements continue to be in you and if you take the non-you elements out, there is no more ‘you’ left.

We have the complex of superiority as human beings and we think we have that kind of intelligence, that kind of consciousness that other living beings do not have. But I’m not very proud of that kind of mind that we are using in daily life: the mind of discrimination caught by many notions, the foundation of all kind of suffering. We discriminate against this and that, and that creates complexes of superiority, inferiority, and equality.

(gestures to an orchid) This plant has intelligence, this plant has knowledge, this plant has a will to live. This plant knows how to fabricate flowers and fruit and how to continue to live in the best way it can. And it seems to me that this plant is creating less suffering than we human beings. I am not very proud of my mind of discrimination. Therefore I am free from the complex of ‘superiority of a human being’. I know that I can do better.

That is why when you produce a thought, Mother Earth is producing that thought together with you. Don’t say that you are alone producing that thought. Mother Earth is in you at the foundation and she is producing that thought with you at the same time. This thought is not your property. This thought that is produced is a creation of the whole Earth – and not only the Earth, the Sun also, because without the Sun the Earth can not be herself; she is not able to create you and to bring you into existence.

So that is the mind of Non-discrimination. As far as you use the mind of discrimination to judge and to organize, you continue to create suffering. That is why it’s so important to learn how to remove notions that are at the foundation of separation and discrimination.”

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The Other Shore

Excerpt from dharma talk “Going to the Shore of Non-Suffering” given by Thich Nhat Hanh on August 13, 1997 in Plum Village, France.

Paramita means perfection, the perfection of the crossing over to the other shore. We have seen that a paramita is not so difficult to practice; even children can do it. Paramita means from this shore of suffering we cross over to the other shore, the shore of well-being. From the shore of anger, we cross to the shore of non-anger. From the shore of jealousy, we cross over to the shore of non-jealousy. If you know how to do it, you can cross over to the other shore very quickly. It is a matter of training, it is a matter of practice, and you can do that with the help of another person or many other persons. It’s nice to cross the stream of suffering together, hand in hand. So every time you want to cross, if you feel that alone it would be a little bit too difficult, you ask someone to hold your hand and you cross together the stream of suffering with him or with her.

If you feel you are caught in anger and that anger is a kind of fire burning you, you don’t want that; you don’t want to stay on this shore suffering from anger—you want to get relief, you want to cross to the other shore. You have to do something. Row your boat to go to the other side. Whether that is walking meditation, mindful breathing, or anything that you have learned here from Plum Village, it can be a boat helping you to cross over to the other shore. Next time when you feel that you don’t like it on this shore, you have to make a determination to cross to the other shore. You may like to say to a person that you love that you don’t want to stay here on this shore, you want to cross over to the other shore, and you may like to ask the other person to help you to cross. There are many things we can do together. Sitting and listening to the bell—we can do together, as two brothers, two sisters, as mother and child, or father and child. We can sit down and practice together.

Every time there is one of us who is not happy, we have to help him, to help her, to go to the other shore. We have to support him, support her. We shall not say, “That is your problem,” no. There is no such thing as your problem; it is a problem for everyone. If one person suffers, then everyone around has to suffer too. If a father tells his son or his daughter, “That is your problem,” that means the father has not got the insight. There is no such thing as your problem, because you are my son, you are my daughter, and if you have a problem, that is our problem, not yours only. Because if happiness if not an individual matter, suffering also is not an individual matter. You have to help and support each other to cross the river of suffering. So next time when you feel unhappy, you cry, you don’t want to be unhappy, then you may like to ask your father, your mother, your brothers, and your sisters to help. “Please help. I don’t want to stay on this shore. I want to cross over.” Then they come and they will help you. He, she will help you.

You should know the practice. We should know how to practice walking meditation, to practice sitting and breathing in and out with our attention focused on our belly. We can invite the bell, to listen together. Every time you feel unhappy or angry, always you can practice listening to the bell. I guarantee that after having practiced three sounds of the bell, you will feel much better.

All the six paramitas have the power to carry us over to the other shore so that we will not suffer anymore. After some time, training yourself, you’ll arrive at the state of being when you can cross the stream of suffering very easily and very quickly. You have to master the practice, and you are no longer afraid. It is like knowing how to make tofu. If you know that there is no longer any tofu in the house, you are not afraid. A few hours and then you have tofu again. You know how to garden, to practice organic gardening. You know that there are heaps of garbage in your garden. You are not afraid because you know how to transform the garbage back into compost, and you are not afraid at all. While transforming the garbage into the compost, you can be very joyful. Therefore, we are no longer afraid of the garbage in us, the afflictions, the suffering in us. We know how to handle them, how to transform them; therefore, crossing to the other shore is a joy. You don’t have to suffer even while crossing. You don’t think that only when you arrive at the other shore you stop suffering, no. Crossing is already a pleasure.

Life is a continuation of transformation; it’s just like gardening. You cannot expect that your garden will only produce flowers—your garden does produce garbage. That is the meaning of life. Those who suffer don’t know the art of transformation—that is why they suffer, because of the garbage in them—they don’t know how to transform. But you, you know the art of transformation; that is why you can embrace even your suffering, and you are able to transform. You never get back to the state of being overwhelmed, not knowing what to do with your suffering. If you train yourself in the six paramitas, one day you will feel that you are no longer afraid of any suffering. It’s like doing the dishes. Of course, every day you have to use dishes, you have to eat, and therefore you produce dirty dishes. But for us, making dishes clean is very easy. We have detergent, we have water, we have soap, we have the time, we know how to breathe in, breathe out, how to sing while doing the dishes. So doing the dishes is no longer a problem. It can be very joyful. So you don’t suffer a setback any more, just because you know the way, you know the paramitas, you have the boats to cross over to the shore.

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Not Dwelling on the NonConditioned

From the Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra, Translated from the Chinese by Thich Nhat Hanh

What does it mean, “not dwelling on the Nonconditioned”?

The bodhisattva contemplates the reality of Emptiness but does not take Emptiness as an object of attainment. The bodhisattva practices the reality of Nonappearance and Nonpursuit but does not take Nonappearance or Nonpursuit as an object of attainment.He contemplates the reality of Noncreation but does not take Noncreation as an object of attainment.

He meditates on the truth of Impermanence but does not abandon his work to serve and save. He meditates on Suffering but does not reject the world of births and  deaths. He meditates on Extinction but does not embrace Extinction. He meditates on Detachment but goes on realizing good things in the world. He meditates on the homeless nature of dharmas but continues to orientate himself toward the Good. He meditates on the reality of Neither-creation-nor-destruction but still undertakes the responsibility in the world of creations and destructions. He meditates on the reality of the Ultimate but still dwells in the world of interdependent origins.

He meditates on Nonaction but continues always his acts of service and education. He meditates on Emptiness but does not abandon Great Compassion.He meditates on the Position of the True Dharma but does not follow a rigid path. He meditates on the Unreal, Impermanent, Unoriginated, Nonpossessed, and Markless nature of dharmas but does not abandon his career concerning merits, concentration, and wisdom.

Practicing in that way, the bodhisattva is described as “not dwelling on the Nonconditioned.” He has wisdom but does not end his action in the realm of the conditioned; he has compassion but does not dwell in the Nonconditioned; he wants to realize his great Vow but he will not abandon the conditioned world.

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Embracing Collective Energy

Excerpt from “The Art of Power” by Thich Nhat Hanh

Imagine a flower in the morning. The flower is not yet open. The sunshine embraces the flower, and the energy of the sunshine begins to penetrate the flower. The sun doesn’t just go around the flower. The light naturally penetrates the flower, and an hour later the
flower has to open itself to the sun. The sun is our mindfulness, embracing the flower of our feelings.

If we allow our anger, fear, and despair to be alone and unsupervised in us, they will be destructive. If we generate mindfulness, it will recognize and embrace these painful feelings. The practices of mindful breathing and mindful walking not only nourish and refresh us, but they also help us recognize and embrace the pain in us. Instead of using our energy, our power, to suppress our pain, we help our body become more integrated. By embracing our suffering, we are much stronger.

If our loved ones sit or walk with us, we become even stronger because the other person lends us their energy of mindfulness. We can say, “Darling, please come and do mindful walking with me. I need your presence.” Then she will come and walk with you. Together, we combine our mindful energies, and there is plenty to embrace our suffering. If we have several friends sitting with us, the positive, collective energy of mindfulness will be even
stronger. It will be much easier for us to allow our pain, sorrow, and despair to be embraced by the collective energy.

That is why it is so pleasant and helpful to practice in a community where everyone knows how to do the same thing. The energy is powerful. If you allow yourself to be embraced by that collective energy, you feel much better and healing happens quickly. The energy of mindfulness helps us be aware of what is going on. When you breathe in and you know that you are breathing in, this is mindfulness of breathing.

When you drink your coffee or tea and you know that you are drinking coffee or tea, this is mindfulness of drinking. When you walk and you know you are walking, and you enjoy every step you take, this is mindfulness of walking. So these kinds of practices generate the energy of mindfulness, helping you be fully alive, fully present to touch the wonders of life for your nourishment and healing.

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No Goal

Excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh “The Doors of Liberation” published in May 2004 issue of Shambhala Sun 

The third door of liberation is aimlessness. Aimlessness means you don’t put anything in front of you as the object of your pursuit. What you are looking for is not outside of you; it is already here. You already are what you want to become.

Concentrating on aimlessness releases your longing and craving for something in the future and elsewhere. You may be running all your life instead of living it. You may
be running after happiness, love, romance, success, or enlightenment.

Concentrating on aimlessness consists of removing the object of your pursuit, your goal. If you are running after nirvana, you should know that nirvana is already there in yourself
and in everything. If you are running after the Buddha, be aware that the Buddha is already in you. If you are seeking happiness, be aware that happiness is available in the here and now.

This insight helps you stop running. Only when you stop running can you get the fulfillment and happiness you have been looking for.

A wave doesn’t have to go and look for water. It is water right in the here and now. A cedar tree doesn’t have any desire to be a pine or a cypress or even a bird. It’s a wonderful
manifestation of the cosmos just as it is.

You are the manifestation of the cosmos. You are wonderful just like that.

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Beyond Environment

“Not to cut the tree, not to pollute the water, that is not enough. I think all activists have to adopt a spiritual practice in order to help them suffer less, to nourish the happiness in them, and to handle the suffering in them so that they will be effective in trying to help the world, the people. With anger and frustration, you cannot do much, you might make the situation worse…The healing of the people should go together with the healing of the Earth…”

“Our century should be a century of spirituality, whether we can survive or not depends on it.”

–Interview talk By Thich Nhat Hanh in December of 2011 at Plum Village

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