By 9:00 this morning, I had already been given the opportunity to witness one of my less virtuous sides. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of the sevas (volunteer work) I do at Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India is to work in the vermicomposting center, separating the worms from the compost they make. The harvested worms are sent back to make more compost and the finished compost is bagged and stored for use in the gardens. This is the third year I am doing this seva.
Last year, there was a woman in the center who was working so fast. It seemed to me like she was taking handful after handful of the compost and making no effort to separate out the worms. She had way more experience than I did and worked many hours a day, but my judgment was that she was being careless and not taking her job seriously. “I”, on the other hand, was being meticulous, going carefully over every handful of compost looking for even the smallest of worms. “I” knew what I was doing and “I” was doing it way better than she was.
Fast forward to this year. Yesterday, while I was harvesting the worms, another woman joined me. This year there is a different set up in that the material we are to separate has been formed into mounds that are about 16 inches high. The woman sat down in front of a mound and started picking up handful after handful of the compost and placing it in the bucket which contained the finished compost. She didn’t even seem to be looking for worms, and I rarely saw her put a worm in the worm bucket. Then she started lightly brushing the sides of the mound with her hand. She would pick up the material she had brushed off and placed it in the compost bucket. Again, I was full of judgment. She was being so careless, while “I” was working slowly and methodically, making sure that “I” didn’t miss a single worm. I left soon after that so did not see how she completed the process.
I should mention that my way of harvesting the worms is very different. I know that worms gather at the bottom so I take the mound apart and go directly to the bottom. I am then able to quickly gather large numbers of worms and place them in my worm bucket. That process is very satisfying because I see the fruit of my action right away. Next, I examine every bit of the remaining compost to make sure I haven’t missed any worms.
I thought about that scenario during the day and began to wonder if there was something that I was missing. Was it possible that the two women knew something that I didn’t know? That would make sense since they were the ones who did this work day in and day out. This morning I decided to try it their way.
Once I looked at the mound with fresh perspective, I had a sense of what was happening. The outer part of the mound is drier and, in addition, is exposed to light. Worms want to be where it is damp and dark, so if the compost is dry or there is light, they would burrow deeper into the mound. And the act of someone brushing off the outside layer of the mound would certainly result in the worms quickly moving deeper inside.
Today, when I picked up the compost around the base of my mound, I discovered it didn’t contain a single worm. That was also true when I brushed the outside of my mound; none of the material that I brushed off had worms in it. It was not until I was much deeper into the mound that I found more than the occasional worm. Once I reached the center areas, I joyously harvested big clumps of worms!
It had taken me a full hour to separate the worms from one mound of compost when I did it “my” way. Using their techniques, I finished sorting two mounds in about 40 minutes! Clearly, these two women knew how to efficiently separate the worms and the compost and I did not. I not only had learned a new way to harvest the worms, but I had also received an opportunity to examine my arrogance! And it is still early morning. I wonder what the rest of this day will hold?