The Cosmic Compost Heap Theory

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.

—A.V.

On Discourse

Argument Clinic-CleeseMan: I came here for a good argument.
Mr Vibrating: No you didn’t; no, you came here for an argument.
Man: An argument isn’t just contradiction.
Mr Vibrating: It can be.
Man: No it can’t. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.
Mr Vibrating: No it isn’t.
Man: Yes it is! It’s not just contradiction.
Mr Vibrating: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.
Man: Yes, but that’s not just saying ‘No it isn’t.’
Mr Vibrating: Yes it is!
Man: No it isn’t!
Man: Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.
(short pause)
Mr Vibrating: No it isn’t.

—Monty Python, “Argument Clinic”

I’d like to introduce the above exhibit as an example ad absurdum on the conduct of many individuals once they find themselves in the vast anonymity of cyber space.  Depending on the venue (with sites like YouTube and FaceBook being particularly susceptible), a disturbing number of “discussions” can be boiled down to roughly the same level of discourse that the Pythons so cleverly lampooned back in 1972.  In my own short time on the InterWebs, I have only found a handful of boards (the wonderful Druid’s Head Pub being one of them) where the Mr. Vibratings of the virtual world are taken to task for their inanity and disruption.

But trying to control the trolls and egomaniacs of the internet does have some rather unhappy ramifications, especially for sites which seek to promote the discussion of spirituality.  The major one is to create a feeling of hostility between long-time members and newcomers, who often times will be very enthusiastic, but less able in their argumentative capabilities.  Many groups respond with the old “use the search key,” or “read all (4 years worth) of archives before you post” as a method of negating the invariable awkwardness when a new member sticks his foot in his mouth.  But really, what is needed here is training in 1) courtesy and etiquette when responding in written form, and 2) a basic understanding of logic and debate.

Neither courtesy nor logic are easy to come by as they seem to have been eliminated from most modern forms of education.  (Latin, once the standard for building logical thinking through language, is no longer fashionable; meanwhile the elegance of the written word has been reduced to “LOL, WTFBBQ?”)  Still, is it the responsibility of “veteran” members of a community to instill these basics in the “newbs”?  While it can be wearing to respond to post after post of enthusiastic (but misinformed) discourse, I believe the initial attempt needs to be made by those who already know the ropes.  Their tone defines what is, and is not, acceptable, and without their guidance, it is ridiculous to expect any change in behavior on the part of the (ignorant but not necessarily stupid) newcomer.

Unfortunately, many veterans have become tired of the constant effort it takes to “edumacate” the uninitiated, resulting in bitter and sarcastic responses to what may in fact be genuine misunderstandings or questions.  This ends up benefitting no one—although it may indulge the old timer’s superiority complexes, however briefly.  Kindness is another lost art, one that needs to be paid particular attention when dealing with such anonymous internet interactions.

So in short, newbs: try to learn the basics of debate and discourse, and apply them liberally when you enter a new forum or email list.  And veterans, please try a little kindness.  Tolerance wears thin, but kindness is the spackle that allows us to preserve the illusion of patience.

—A.V.