The Beauty of Manure

Thich Nhat Hanh frequently reminded his readers that nothing grows without manure. When we see a rose, we need to remember the manure that fed it's roots. Likewise, when we see/smell manure, we need to remember that there is a rose waiting to manifest from it.

We all have manure in our lives. Some of it seems passing. Some of it has been a part of our reality for so long that we can't remember when it started. Some of it just showed up, and we fear the damage it will do--that we'll never be done with it's effects. Some of it simply overwhelms us.

And when we're overwhelmed, we wonder if Thich Nhat Hanh's advice on manure might be a bit pollyannish. Yes, sometimes manure can be put to good use, but isn't it at times simply destructive?

I have to remind myself that Thich Nhat Hanh's fundamental experience of manure was his experience during the Vietnam war--that he and his students were deemed enemies by both the North and South Vietnamese armies simply because they hoped to serve the common people--that they were martyred and exiled--that they knew heart-aches, sufferings, struggles and trials that I'll never know. I have to remind myself that Thich Nhat Hanh knows what manure is, and in it he can still see a rose.

For him, manure is the suffering in our lives, and the rose is the compassion enabled by the suffering. You simply cannot know compassion without your own suffering. How can you suffer with another if you have never suffered yourself? And for him, there is nothing more beautiful, more verdant, more life-giving than the compassion that can transform someone else's suffering through it's loving presence.

Resilience is the set of skills, beliefs, and practices that allow us to live into our heart-aches, sufferings, struggles, and trials and nurture our garden in their midst. Sometimes manure is simply manure, but that's only if we let it be. If we choose to develop our resilience, then we can find and raise up life out of the manure of our life. The decision to pursue this course is the first step towards resilience, and ultimately roses.

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