Make Rich the Soil

from Shanti Rubenstone

Mostly I think of myself as a good person. I am a doctor and through medicine have helped many people. I am generous by nature. As a child I told my mother that I would make a lot of money in my life, but I would never have much myself, because whatever I made I would give away or use to help others. And I have been true to my word. I am deeply spiritual and have always tried to live a life that is pleasing to God.

Still, I haven’t always lived up to my own high ideals. And on this particular day, in the middle of a three-week period of seclusion, all I could remember were the things I had done wrong.

Starting with my childhood, I recalled the lies I had told my mother, and the times I wouldn’t share my toys. In high school, deliberately taking from my friend the boy she wanted, and mocking a teacher who had criticized my work. Then, later, a serious betrayal of the man who had loved me, and who deserved far better than I had given.

On and on it went this way for three days. I made lists of all my mistakes. Some part of me knew this whole exercise was folly, but I was obsessed and couldn’t stop myself.

Finally I began to wonder if I even deserved the life I had chosen: to be a doctor; to live in a spiritual community; perhaps to be a minister to others on the path I followed. I began to think God saw it all as mere presumption.

Not knowing what else to do, I went to my meditation room and told God, “I am not getting up from this meditation seat until you tell me, in no uncertain terms, what I am supposed to do. If You know I am unqualified for what I aspire to, then just tell me. No riddles. Just clear, straight answers.”

Hour after hour I sat there. I would not get up for food or water until God answered my prayer. Periodically I renewed my entreaty, just in case God had forgotten for a moment that I was waiting for His answer.

After most of a day, I picked up a small book by a Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, called Meditation in Action. In his colorful way, he had titled one chapter The Manure of Experience.

In it he explained how the unskilled farmer throws away his own rubbish, but then has to buy manure from his neighbors. The skilled farmer saves all his rubbish. Despite the smell and the mess of it, he works with it until it becomes something of great value. Spread on his land, or sold to other farmers, it is the foundation for bountiful, nourishing crops.

In the same way, the author went on to explain, the unskilled devotee tries to throw away the experiences of samsara (wordly delusion) and just search for nirvana (spiritual enlightenment). By contrast, the skilled devotee acknowledges, accepts, and works with all these so-called “negative” things, until they become the fertilizer for the sprouting seed of realization.

“Ah, Lord,” I whispered quietly. “Now I understand.”