“No mud, no lotus.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
This pen drawing of mine was inspired by the quote “No mud, no lotus” by the beloved Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. I have always been drawn to his teachings, and this quote in particular.
I have transported his words into my therapy groups for years. Time and time again, I have witnessed a light in people’s eyes as we explore his teachings. I see the sudden understanding when my group members realize that the “mud” in their lives is not something to be ashamed of, but something to acknowledge and perhaps even appreciate.
The mud symbolizes the suffering and darkness for so many of us. We may feel alone, uncertain, and even hopeless at times. However, the lotus conveys a powerful message. A lotus flower begins life enclosed in the dark muck and mire at the bottom of the water. In this dark space, the lotus draws in vital nutrients. Without the mud and darkness, the lotus flower cannot begin its life.
As Thich Nhat Hanh writes in No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering:
“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”
The muddier the bottom is, the more brilliant is the lotus that unfolds on the surface.
I turn Thich Nhat Hanh’s words over frequently while thinking about the muck and mire that our country is trying to sift through. There are days when I just want to curl up on the couch and disengage from the daily flow. As an empath I feel not only my pain, but the pain of so many others. On other days I remember to breathe. I breathe into the pain, suffering, and uncertainty. I acknowledge the pain that is present. And then I try to grow some space around the pain. I feel around until I reach the edge of that feeling…and then I breathe even more deeply into that space.
I visualize the lotus curled up into itself at the bottom of the water. The tender petals gradually reaching out and feeling around. The innate intelligence of the lotus (and all life) that allows this flower to know which way is up when the time arrives.
We may not know which way is “up” right now. But maybe, when the darkness sets in, we can lean into our own inner knowing.
If this lotus symbol resonates with you, here are a few ideas to explore.
- Write a poem or short story from the point of view of the lotus flower, perhaps using the first person point of view. Begin the writing journey at the bottom of the water, and see where it takes you.
- Search for a photo of a lotus or take one yourself if you can find one in nature. Then choose any art materials, and let the photo inspire a piece of our own art. Try watercolor, soft colored pencils, chalk pastel, pen and ink, or collage. You may even wish to sculpt a lotus using model magic, clay, or play-doh.
- Become the lotus. Take inspiration from yoga postures or create your own unique movements. Begin close to the ground and then let your body unfold slowly into different positions as a lotus would make its way to the surface. Children will enjoy this process too!
- Write and/or illustrate your own life story about a time you were experiencing darkness and challenging times. Explore as little or as much detail as feels comfortable. Perhaps reflect on whether there were hidden gifts in the darkness that you came to see? Then chronicle your path out of the darkness.
I hope these ideas spark your interest and lead to reflection and creativity!