No Mud, No Lotus

The symbol of the lotus

As a long-time student of yoga, I have heard the story of the lotus flower so often that I sometimes forget the power of its message. You see, the lotus is a breathtaking flower that thrives in the murkiest, muddiest water. It is often seen as a symbol of strength and resilience. The fact that each day such beauty can rise from the messy, dirty, muddy floor of a pond is a beacon of hope for those of us striving to live and love in this messy world that we share.

The lotus can be especially inspiring when the mess and mud in which we find ourselves is of our own making. When we catch ourselves slipping back into a bad habit we thought we’d broken long ago. When we are filled with remorse for saying something we never should have said. When we let an opportunity to help a friend slip by because we are overwhelmed with our own issues. In moments like this, the lotus reminds us that we will always have another chance to stretch up from our own muck to bloom brightly in the world.

A practice of mucking about in the mud

The Christian season of Lent began this Wednesday. For those of you who are not familiar with Lent, it is 40 days set aside to be especially intentional about and attentive to your relationship with God (or the Divine, or Spirit, or whatever name bests suits your soul). Lent is, essentially, a season of practice. Making such a commitment to turn inward daily for six weeks or so can deepen and stabilize any spirituality – no matter the practitioner’s faith tradition and no matter the time of year.

To get back to the lotus, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday – a day when our attention is drawn to the “muck and mud” of our lives. This dirt is, in part, what the ashes on our foreheads represent. It is a day to remember that we are human. In other words, to remember that we are flawed and finite. It is a day when we are invited to remember as well, that, because of our imperfections, we intentionally and unintentionally cause pain for others.

As we do the hard work of developing awareness of our flaws and shortcomings, the symbol of the lotus is helpful. Like the mud and muck that nurture and support the beautiful lotus flower, the imperfections and mess of our lives can support our own growth and flowering. For us, it is awareness of the muck that creates the change (the blossoming) that we pray for.

We must bring loving-kindness with us into the mud

Any healthy practice of awareness must include the balancing effect of loving-kindness. It is loving-kindness that transforms awareness of our inner muck into nutritive soil for growth. Our intention in a practice of self-awareness such as the season of Lent is not to beat ourselves up. It is to see clearly and kindly. To understand that we, like everyone else, mess up – and regularly at that.

When we see ourselves clearly, we are better able to connect to the people who are messing up around us. When we see how we accidentally hurt the people in our lives, we are better able to be forgiving and compassionate when someone else hurts us. This understanding, compassion, and loving-kindness softens our impact on the world. We become beacons of light and love as beautiful as lotuses floating on dark water.

We are not alone in the mud

For those of us confronted by a muddy mess so great that it feels overwhelming, the good news is that we don’t have to do the transforming (the blooming) alone. God is in the mess with us as certainly as God is in the mud at the bottom of the pond inspiring the lotus plant to send up a bloom each day. We look at the muck and mud of our lives (of ourselves!) not to feel shame, but to feel wonder. Wonder that, if we are steady and persistent in our practice of awareness, we will change. Wonder at what, to borrow Jan Richardson’s words from her poem, Blessing the Dust, “God can do within the dust, within the dirt, within the stuff, of which the world is made.”

If God can make a lotus flower from the much at the bottom of a pond, just imagine what God will do with YOU.

Don’t muck about in the mud on your own! A spiritual director can be a great support in a practice of developing self-awareness and deepening your relationship with God.