Creative Composting

If you are reading this, congratulations: you have survived the End of the World. January happened. That’s good news. We are still, however, pretty deep into the dark seasons, and despite the desire to shed our 2012 snakeskins and start all new again, this remains the time of year to rest, reflect, and remember. The darkness calls us inwards while New Year’s Resolutions want to rush us onto the 2013 red carpet. What we need, my friends, is a strategy.

Luckily, as yogis, we have some very good ones. The intention to embrace the Now and let go of the past is vital, but it also takes some work. We can’t simply forget everything that has ever happened to us, leave all our baggage at the train station, and run off into the sunset with empty hands. If we don’t look down to see what we are gripping onto, we can’t very well let go, can we?

When we move our bodies, we are squeezing and stretching the same tissues that hold every experience we’ve ever felt viscerally. When your heart breaks, you feel it in your heart. When a situation makes you sick to your stomach, you feel it in your stomach. When you get weak in the knees, you feel it in your knees. These “feeling cliches” in the English language remind us that feelings are called feelings because we feel them.

We also have a desire to translate what’s happening in our viscera. We need words to help us process what’s happening in our bodies and, if we like, express how we feel to another human.

Natalie Goldberg is a zen meditation practitioner and a writer. She has a concept I love called “composting”:

“Our senses by themselves are dumb. They take in experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies. I call this “composting.” Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soul bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil.”

Composting is much like alchemy. It’s a transmutation of one thing into another, disparate stuff coming together into the kind of dirt that can grow plants and flowers. So when we practice yoga, we have the opportunity to start to translate some of our body’s language.

So I practice: I show up to my mat and move my body on days when it feels like pushing lead around, and days that are nothing but beauty and light. And I write– I blat it out, as a teacher of mine used to say. Just write and write the crap out like I used to do when I was an angsty teenager (okay, I’m pretty much a 29 year old angsty teenager). A vocabulary eventually stirs from my bones.

That vocabulary has been nestled in beds in the sponges of oxygenated alveoli deep in the cavities of me. It has been scratched onto my skin in red welts that rose up in circles on my forearms. Some days it’s tidal pools your footprints left in the sand. Sometimes it is total, unadulterated crap.

And that’s fine with me, because it’s all a part of the process of making the kind of dirt you can plant in. I invite you to bring a journal to your next yoga class, and before or after your savasana, roll over and let some words out without editing or worrying if it’s any good. It might not make sense in the moment, but it also might tell you something that your body has been trying to get across for a long time now. Then you can look down, see what you are holding onto, and let go.

If you’d like to explore this practice more deeply with me, please join me for my Creative Flow: Writing and Yoga workshop on Sunday January 13th at Kits Beach Semperviva.

Julie Peters has been practicing yoga from the tender age of 12, and it’s gotten her through everything from the horrors of teenagedom to a Master’s degree in English Literature. She is a performance poet, freelance writer, and Vinyasa Flow and Yin yoga teacher. She brings a creative style, warm energy, and food for thought to every class.