Thich Nhat Hanh // How to Turn Garbage into Flowers

Mira Bozhko.jpg

Lately, I've been reading through Thich Nhat Hanhs book, You Are Here. One of my favorite passages in it involves the topic of turning garbage into flowers: 

Sorrow, fear, and depression are all a kind of garbage. These bits of garbage are part of real life, and we must look deeply into their nature. You can practice in order to turn these bits of garbage into flowers. It is not only your love that is organic; your hate is, too. So you should not throw anything out. All you have to do is learn how to transform your garbage into flowers. 

This concept caught my attention because divorce brings a lot of garbage into one's life. So I often wonder, how can these difficult experiences be turned into strengths? How can they be built upon -- not shoved aside or ignored or converted to greater anger or pain -- but built upon into something beautiful? How do you transcend all the suffering and pain into something good? Because then, given all the pain we've been through, we'd be that much stronger.

With the book in hand, I read on:

The flower does not  consider  garbage  as  an  enemy  or  panic  when becoming  garbage, nor does the garbage become depressed and view the flower as an enemy. They realize the nature  of interbeing. In Buddhist therapy we preserve the garbage within ourselves. We do not want to throw it out because if we do, we have nothing  left with which to make our flowers grow.

How fascinating -- my first instinct is to throw all the garbage out -- all the sorrow, pain, and misery. But what if our to be rid of it, what if our resistance to it, is the very thing that increases our pain?

In the practice of Buddhism, we see that all mental formations--such as compassion, love, fear, sorrow, and despair--are organic in nature. We don't need to be afraid of them, because transformation is possible. Just by having this deep insight into the organic nature of mental formations, you become a lot more solid, a lot calmer and more peaceful. With just a smile, and mindful breathing, you can start to transform them. 

If you feel irritation or depression or despair, recognize their presence and practice this mantra: "Dear one, I am here for you." You should talk to your depression or your anger just as you would to a child. You embrace it tenderly with the energy of mindfulness and say, "Dear one, I know you are there, and I am going to take care of you," just as you would with your crying baby. There is no discrimination or dualism here, because compassion and love are you, but anger is too. All three are organic in nature, so you don't need to be afraid. You can transform them. 

Let me repeat: In the practice of Buddhist meditation, we do not turn ourselves into a battlefield of good versus evil. The good must take care of the evil as a big brother takes care of his little brother, or as a big sister takes care of her little sister--with a great deal of tenderness, in a spirit of nonduality. Knowing that, there is a lot of peace in you already. The insight of nonduality will put a stop to the war in you. You have struggled in the past, and perhaps you are still struggling; but is it necessary? No. Struggle is useless. Stop struggling. 

There are is so much wisdom in this passage.

It speaks to the importance of loving kindness towards ourselves and to our loved ones; meditating and practicing gentle mantras ("Dear one, I am here for you."); 

It also speaks to a radical acceptance of painful emotions and events in our lives - all the way, complete and total, accepting in our mind, heart, and body of reality as it is; 

It underscores that life can be worth living even with garbage in it, that pain can't be avoided but it can be transformed; 

that a key to this is mindfulness and meditation;

that the universe is filed with opposing forces, which can be integrated into a whole; the concept of nonduality -- that two things that are opposing can be true at the same time. we can work toward change and acceptance; an event can be both painful and good; we can be sad and filled with sorrow but also at peace. We can move through pain as we make space to heal. 

What do you think of this passage? What books have you been reading lately that have been helpful in healing after loss?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also find my book, Grieving the Loss of a Love: How to Embrace Grief to Find True Hope and Healing After a Divorce, Breakup, or Death helpful.