To search for perfection is all very well, but to look for heaven is to live here in hell.
—Sting, “Consider Me Gone”
Half of the enormous compost pile in the community garden has been turned, and a good portion of it is ready for use—luscious, brown-black rotting matter, ripe for distribution. I can’t walk over to the pile without thinking, just for a moment, about the role of decay in the cycle of growth, and how this might very well be applicable to my understanding of spirituality as well.
I really like my metaphysical theories to be reflected in principles from the natural world. This is one place where I can get myself in trouble sometimes, particularly as regards common notions of reincarnation. I don’t abide by the idea that our souls are moving up and down some sort of cosmic ladder in a search for perfection. I suppose on the most basic level it violates my American values of equality for all, no matter how insignificant. Hierarchical reincarnation from what I’ve seen also tends to stem from a desire to escape the wheel, to end suffering, or something similar. I don’t believe life is pain, so this version of reincarnation really doesn’t fit my practice.
Still, I don’t think there’s an infinite supply of souls in the universe. At least in this world, there is always a finite amount of material. To borrow a bit from physics and chemistry, things are neither created or destroyed, but they do change forms. The same is true, I believe, of souls. Whatever that elusive substance that makes up the spirit (I’ll call it soul-stuff), I see no reason for it not to follow a cycle like everything else in nature, even if we do not exactly understand how that cycle itself works. I’ve dubbed this the Cosmic Compost Heap Theory, and while it is constantly being adapted as I learn and grow, its basic premise has been serving me quite well for some time.
The workings of the Great Heap can be broken down as follows. When a being dies, just as its corporeal form decomposes, so does its soul. However, just like the body’s various bits break down at different rates, so too does the soul-stuff. Think of it like a compost pile: the leafy greens break down first, but sometimes you’ll come across a banana peel or eggs shells even years later. This is how I account for past life memories, which tend to be moments of strong emotion. The soul-stuff is imprinted with the experience, and because it was so powerful it does not break down readily when re-entered into the Great Heap. Instead, such “marked” soul-stuff is passed on to the next life.
As I mentioned above, I don’t believe that reincarnation is linear, or that we’re working towards and end goal or Nirvana or the Summerlands or Halls of the Ancestors. Perhaps certain parts of our souls may be able to take a vacation there between lives, but that staying there indefinitely is unnatural. I also believe that humans are not the only ones to enjoy this rest, but is applicable to all beings.
What I love about this paradigm is that is turns the common Western “humans are at the top of the spiritual/evolutional food chain” on its head. Now there is room for the lives of grasshoppers and birches to be as sacred as those of mankind. Hopefully by the time our journey is over, we will have made heaven for ourselves and our loved ones through our words and deeds in this life.
Why wait for joy? In the end, we all return to the same basic building blocks.