Composting as Therapy
“The ground’s generosity takes in our compost and grows beauty. Try to be more like the ground” – Rumi
Over the last three years, I have spent a lot of time getting to know the ground just so I could be more like it in the Rumi sense.
This has been a literal journey for me. I moved to Tel Aviv in 2014, where my gardening skills were confounded by the harsh Mediterranean climate and my soil was shocking. This wouldn’t do, I obviously needed to grow all of the wonderful tomatoes that the Med had promised from afar. I had dreamed of picking them warm from the vine, soaking up that unmistakable tomato vine smell and eating them just as they were in the summer sun. I definitely needed to fix my soil.
And so I built a worm farm, and set about diligently composting my kitchen scraps, building beautifully rich soil from the crap my kitchen didn’t want. I got to know the ground in all its complexity, what it needed to keep nourished, what it wanted to thrive, and what lived within it to create the rich ecosystem of life that is the soil – something we are so often prepared to pass off as mere ‘dirt’. And Rumi was right, the ground’s generosity did take my compost and it grew beauty. Thankfully, in the form of fat, juicy, organic tomatoes.
This literal journey lends itself beautifully to the metaphorical ‘ground’ I was simultaneously navigating at the time. Moving countries is always a bit of a shock to the system and we had moved to the Middle East no less: a beautiful and infuriating jumbled mess of a place, where the reality of war is confronting and the suffering almost close enough to touch. On the flipside, the city of Tel Aviv is vibrant and dynamic, there’s great food, year-round sun and beaches for days. Flip again and you find a dog-eat-dog world out there, where you quickly learn to throw your manners to the wayside before such a ‘weakness’ sees you taken for a sucker. In short, it takes time to navigate all the flipsides of a new country and to feel comfortable in its skin.
My day-to-day life was starkly different too: I’d left a busy job to accompany my husband on an overseas posting, so my days were suddenly filled with setting up house, navigating the tradie world in a foreign language and figuring out how to do simple life things, like buy milk. And I spent many an hour with just myself and my thoughts. So much space for thought.
I desperately struggled with not working. Not so much the loss of the work itself, but I hadn’t realized how much of my identity was built around my job and how much I relied on it for day-to-day structure, human interaction, confidence and a sense of purpose. And I didn’t realize how mentally stabilizing routine and structure were for me. Until it wasn’t there. It was anxiety-inducing, isolating and completely unsettling.
In retrospect it’s easy to say that my ‘soil’ was nutrient poor at the time. I would certainly not be growing any tomatoes in that mere dirt. And so while I had set about conquering the Mediterranean climate and building robust soil in my literal backyard, I was failing miserably when it came to the figurative veggie patch.
The literal process of composting, building new soil, growing my beloved tomatoes, eat and repeat was my stabiliser and constant in all of this. It was my safe space, my comfort, something for me to nurture and build. Something that was mine, that I could take ownership of that was independent of my new identity, which at times seemed to be nothing more than someone’s wife.
Slowly, I started to see the wondrous reflection of the life cycle in the composting process – birth, growth, degeneration, decay, death and rebirth. I saw beauty in decay that I hadn’t stopped to notice before and I relished in my ability to grow new life from it. But most importantly, I started to see this cycle playing out figuratively: the decay of my former identity was being composted back to the ground. It was even starting to show signs of new growth, a new identity, a new purpose. I had taken Rumi’s advice and was starting to be more like the ground.
I started to own my new self, to gain the confidence to embark on the things I planned to do with this huge opportunity of three years out of the workforce, to discard the shackles of the public service (my employment world for the preceding decade), to rediscover my creativity and to do something outside the box that I was actually passionate about.
In 2016 I launched The Worm Monger, a forum and learning space for promoting composting in highly urbanised spaces. I have designed an urban worm farm and am in the process of trying to get it to market. It’s so completely out-of-left-field but I believe in it and it now seems to make more sense than anything I’ve ever done before. It’s all still very much a work in progress: I struggle with what others think of this obscure pursuit and how I’ll manage to keep it afloat when we return home. But I can also clearly see the evidence that my piece of ‘ground’ is producing beauty from the compost I’ve literally and figuratively built to feed it.
It’s a good feeling trying to be more like ground. Try to be more like the ground.