This is the story of the lotus in the mud.
“In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud — the obstacles of life and its suffering” -Goldie Hawn
Once upon a time, in a land not very far away at all, there lived a lotus. The lotus made its home in a muddy pond and lived underwater, where the water is unmoving on the surface. Under the surface the lotus was surrounded by muck and mud and fish, insects and dirt. It would be easy for the lotus to be confused at times: why so much mud, and so relentless? It seems, for the lotus that the world is all about mud, mud, mud!
It’s true, at times the lotus is confused: what is the use of all this muck and mud? The lotus can feel quite overwhelmed by this dirt, being just a stem with only a few leaves and a tiny flower pod.
But this lotus has learned something; there in the dark, it has learned that it can take in the nutrients from the mud, little by little and it can actually use these nutrients to grow.
So, it does, and it grows, and the pod slowly rises and surfaces above the water, then the mucky water falls away, as the flower opens into the clean air, finally freeing itself from the harsh life below. It is then that the lotus slowly opens each beautiful petal to the sun, unmasking itself in the worldly beauty surrounding it.
In Buddhism, the bud of the lotus symbolises potential; the mud is suffering. Both, as Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says are of an “organic nature…which means they are both transitory”
The lotus flower represents an awakening, a soulfulness; it is intimate with, but not constrained by, suffering. Just as the lotus flower emerges from the water we can emerge from our suffering, if we find a meaning that is soulful. The lotus could be thought of as awakened mind, a soulful quality of maturation that knows life cannot be lived without pain and suffering, yet this suffering need not be permanent, and it can offer us insight and build our souls into grace from grit.
At times we want to only banish our suffering, to kill it off. This is understandable, but perhaps a great mistake: for if we kill off our mud, how will our lotus flower begin to grow? How will we find our meaning and soul?
In mindfulness we are familiar with Gregory Kramer’s work Insight Dialogue. This is, essentially a way or re-relating that both extends and deepens our interpersonal skills, yet also allows us to re-relate to the pain and shadow of personal selves. In the midst of Kramer’s six elements of Insight Dialogue lies trust emergence. Here the invitation is to do just that, to mindfully sit with our experience in a more compassionate, insightful manner that enriches our sense of being. Can we trust the emergence of soul in our suffering hearts?
Perhaps this is what my teacher Rob Nairn meant when he asked us to see ourselves as a “compassionate mess”-that the very loam by which we find the nutrients to grow is our messy, suffering selves.