I’m from New England, where these last days of October end our swimming in freshwater ponds. Below the sparkling surface, when you put your foot down on the bottom, you can sink into squishy sludge from the dead leaves and a decomposing ooze enveloping your feet in cool soft muck.
Sometimes air bubbles up from where you’ve stepped into the pond. It can be stinky from decaying organic layer under the fresh, clear water. It’s a bit like releasing a fart; we’re ashamed of creating that bad smell. We want to pretend it’s not ours, looking around innocently at those nearby.
We usually have muck in our lives somewhere, don’t we? We want to ignore, transcend, or pretend it doesn’t exist, hide it. We push it outside of our awareness because it’s … mucky. Yuck.
But when I bring loving awareness to these experiences, I remember the verse offered before each meal in Zen retreats: “May we exist in muddy water, with purity, like the lotus. Thus we bow to life as it is…”
Muddy water – that’s where the lotus, sacred flower of India, grows — its thick stem rising from deep layers of slimy swampy muck at the bottom of a river or pond. The gorgeous blossom rises pure and unstained born from the mud of her origin. She floats resplendent, above the water, a promise of spiritual transformation.
Just as mud and muck are true, pristine clarity is also true, and so is everything in between. With mindfulness it can all peacefully co-exist, the mud of everyday living with the pristine, hard-won clarity of our practice.
Through being mindful of this life unfolding, breath by breath, moment by moment, each sound, each flitting thought, the tears and worries and longings and love, we pause to allow even the messy, mucky stuff of our lives to be seen and appreciated. We remember that this is where the lotus flower actually thrives; her beauty born of the mud, her petals of calm, compassionate awareness expanding in our own hearts.