Cultivating compost in the murky depths of a monastery toilet, Steve Krieger learns to break down his raw material, inner and outer.
WHEN I FIRST MOVED here two years ago I had delusions about a Zen center being some kind of bliss factory. There’s no smog up here, I noticed upon strolling the grounds. The air is clean. I’m going to get clean up here too. I felt special, chosen. I convinced myself that all my various failures in life were inevitable steps on the path to this higher calling. Then came my first intensive dai-sesshin retreat: I remember hours beforehand peering down the lid of a compost toilet and suddenly getting the sinking feeling that, like a reader of coffee grounds, I was divining my future in the dark and ominous shapes below.