Don't Try to Avoid the Mud
In Vermont, where I live, there are six seasons—the usual four, plus stick season (that long stretch from mid-October to the first snows, when the trees are bare and the landscape grey) and mud season, which is now.
Mud season starts in early spring when the heavy snows of the winter begin to melt, the temperatures warm and the ground becomes a combination of snow, ice, mud, and water. It’s messy. Often there’s mud everywhere on the trails and on the dirt roads that become rutted and squishy.
During mud season, if I step in the puddles, my shoes and feet will get wet and my toes will ooze with mud. So, wanting to avoid the mess, I am tempted to make paths around the puddles. But this is not actually helpful. In fact, early in spring at Colchester Pond there is a sign that encourages hikers not to walk around the edges of the mud puddles but to go right through them. To skirt the edges prolongs the “wound” of the ground. The mud spreads to the edges of the trail and beyond, and if people keep avoiding the puddles, they will trample new growth. It makes the puddle bigger, tears up more of the grass that is just beginning to grow.
Our tendency is to avoid the messiness, and by doing so the mud puddle spreads.
In our own lives, it’s always mud season. There are always messy, mucky situations that we must walk through: the difficult conversations that we are avoiding, the medical issues, the problems that we need to address at work. Our tendency may be to postpone and avgoid, defer, and deflect, maybe even deny there is a problem at all. But if we try to avoid the situations of our lives, the “wounds” get bigger.
Still, we’d rather avoid the mud.
To do what we need to do but have been avoiding is like walking through the mud puddle: our shoes are going to get wet, and our feet dirty, with mud in between our toes and maybe even splashed on our clothes. If we can feel the tendency to avoid the mud, pause, and breathe into it, we can start to overcome it. We can accomplish what we need to get done and do it without our minds spinning out stories of fear, retaliation, and disaster. And, by being mindful, we can take care of the situations of our lives with less anguish. The mud becomes more matter of fact, more part of the normal course of life.
Of course, we don’t want to go out of our ways to create messes! Life gives us enough challenges without our needing to create fresh mud deliberately. We also don’t want to charge into the puddles without considering the consequences first. Opening to the mud is not carelessness but a willingness to confront the situations that need to be confronted. The timing needs to be right and we need to be in the right frame of mind—a mindful one can be helpful.
It might also be helpful to remember that, as children, we probably loved puddles and splashing in them. We hadn’t yet learned an adult’s dislike of mess and disorder. The mindful approach to mud puddles invokes that fearless child who isn’t bothered by the messiness. With mindfulness, we know that if we get hot, we sweat; if we get cold, we shiver; if we walk through mud, we get dirty. Curiosity triumphs over aversion. The mud doesn’t have to diminish our sense of wellbeing. All it means is that we might have to change our shoes and wash our feet!
Arnie Kozak, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and clinical assistant professor in psychiatry at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine. He is the author of several books including 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness and Timeless Truths for Modern Mindfulness. During all seasons, you can find him trail running with his dogs in the foothills of the Green Mountains.