Lotus in the Mud: A Metaphor for Humanity on our Darkest Days by Lache S.

BeachThere are days I find myself so overwhelmed with sadness concerning the state of our world that I break down crying. Last week, I saw an episode of Mars, a scripted documentary shown on the National Geographic channel about human colonization of the red planet in 2033. One of the astronauts “interviewed” prior to leaving was asked why she was taking such a risk to inhabit Mars. She said something like, “We will give everything for this.” Why not give everything for Earth?

If we would give everything for the planet we evolved on, then we might immediately transition to a life where we would be self-sustainable, build greenhouses in our backyards, give up our carbon-emission- producing cars, and abandon all the unnecessary businesses that are only there to fill our loneliness and boredom. The idea on the psuedo-documentary was that humans are putting this planet in danger, so it might be smart to have a backup. Isn’t that insanity’s way: trash one place and then find another place to live? The insurmountable amount of money we spend on space expeditions could be spent healing our own world. This is not the time for luxuries.

In my anger and frustration, I want to escape as well, ironically, but there is nowhere to go. I am rooted in the destruction of the world, and it is a part of me. In Zen monk Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara’s book Most Intimate, O’Hara introduces an important Buddhist metaphor that symbolizes the human predicament. She says about the lotus, “This treasured blossom only grows in the stagnant water of ponds and lakes. A common Zen phrase is [. . .]: ‘May we exist in muddy water with purity like a lotus.'” (O’Hara 10). This is worded not as a resigned admission but as if it were something wanted or chosen.

The lotus seems to be connected to the mud intimately. In the Yoga Sutras, 196 aphorisms compiled by Patanjali, the first sutra in the second part says, “accepting pain as help for purification [. . .] constitute yoga in practice” (2.1). I think “purification” here means the shedding of resistance. Yoga means union, or a return to the self. How do I surrender to what seems so injurious to me (the literal industrial filth of the world) and still feel clean? How and where do I rest to return to my Self and become whole in this dystopia?

At the end of yoga, after śavāsana, we sit in padmāsana, or lotus pose. The order is meaningful because śavāsana means corpse pose. In this instance, “death” is a transformation of the self into non-self, or the shedding of ego, the quieting of the mind, and the destruction of the illusion of separation. One would think class would be over after that. What is needed after drifting off into the blissful state of nothingness? What comes after nirvāna?

But we wake, still in our meditation. In this āsana, I usually become aware of the warm sweat sticking to my skin and the noises outside the hazy studio door. Perhaps the pain of the world and my own pain returns. It is the remembrance of life, this life that is, and I find I am at peace even though I am rooted in it. Yoga has helped me to learn that my body has its own healing mechanism through the concentration on breath. There is suffering, but I do not wish to have my resisting mind add to it.

I wish I could heal the anger in the world. If I could extract your pain from you and hold it, I would do that gently. My wish is that we could soothe each other, calm the fires, and keep us before we also reach the point of violence. I think if we really saw each other, we would not be so quick to talk against any human being. We would pause and weep, be moved to deep compassion because of the suffering in each other’s lives.

The lotus knows the mud because it grows from it. We all do. I will not say that we should have gratitude for what harms because our compassion comes from an encounter with it. It isn’t that we must say, “it is good that bad thing happened” or “that bad thing happened for this good”; rather, this thing did/does happen and sometimes the only thing we can do is use it to heal ourselves. When harm occurs, we can have gratitude for how we nevertheless keep figuring out how to manage growth and existence from it.

LaChelle Schilling, Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a book project titled Minimalism, Mindfulness, and the Middle Way, incorporating guidance from sacred wisdom literatures. She is also working on certification as a yoga instructor.

Categories: Embodiment, environment, yoga

Tags: , , , , ,

25 replies

  1. Thank you – profound. I love the image of the lotus arising from the mud –


  2. In Taoism and Zen, the lotus is enlightenment — the mud is humility.


  3. How to live in the world with clear sight and to have the courage to hope that it can still be transformed. This is our dilemma.


  4. This sentence, LaChelle, touches me: “I wish I could heal the anger in the world. If I could extract your pain from you and hold it, I would do that gently. My wish is that we could soothe each other, calm the fires, and keep us before we also reach the point of violence.” Thank you for a beautiful post.


  5. Nirvana is beyond Space and time. There is no thing and everything beyond it.


  6. such a perfect read for today…excellent thoughts


  7. Thank you for this post on this day. Beautiful and needed!


  8. I am particularly grateful to read this post today…I am living in this election muddle (mud) and hope that by tomorrow a flower will appear.


    • Thank you so much Sara. Let’s take all and any pain and harmful comments that have occurred during this time and compost them. Perhaps something beautiful will grow.


  9. Hooray for the lotus, and may we all copy her. Especially today. Let beauty arise out of the mud.


  10. “Mud” reminds me of human-ness and new creation – a perfect place for a lotus. Thank you for the nourishing post, La Chelle.

    May peace flood all hearts in the US today as you head for the polls.


  11. The image of the lotus growing from the mud is elegant. I truly wish the destruction in our world would stop. However, sometimes we need to break down before we can rebuild. Also, we need fertilizer to make our flora and fauna bloom. Hopefully, we as people will learn from the anger and destruction and work for something better. Thank you for your post.


    • Thank you. This reminds me of Nhat Thich Hahn’s metaphor of the compost in the garden, which he specifically applies to anger. I hope this as well. I very very much hope we can. I share your prayer of such a garden.


      • This moved me so deeply. After a weeklong Thich Nhat Hahn retreat years ago, I sat on the beach of the retreat center in Rhinebeck, NY craving just a little more of my own silence before driving home. A young man who could have been my (long-deceased) father at about age16, played so beautifully with the young children enjoying the beach – not intrusive on their play but assisting in a way – helping them somersault or steady the sandcastle they were erecting. It was as if my father had appeared to me. That said we must only look for those we miss, and we will find them in metaphor. I reveled in imagining my father young, before war and 6 children and the car accident that took him at 42. Then, looking about, I went in search of my (deceased) mother. Swimming slowly and serenely in the pond, I came upon a particularly shady spot and there was a single waterlily – lotus. It’s beauty was beyond measure and, unlike my dad’s bold play, the lotus needed the quiet of the shade and even perhaps solitariness to thrive. “Ah, there she is. So beautiful still, so alone, so content.” Drinking in all that my tender mother was and wasn’t, I was ready to release my need for quiet. I headed back into the world. Bowing in gratitude. Thank you for this beautiful post.


  12. Marnigillard, thank you so much for your beautiful sharing. This is a gorgeous idea, to find our lost loved ones in metaphor: how courageous and adventurous to be open to the man on the beach and in your sea explorations. I can imagine the peace and exhilaration of the conclusion of such a retreat. I only hope to mirror your experiences some day. Thank you for being thus in this world. Much gratitude.


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