No Mud, No Lotus

Yael Shy
August 12, 2020

The lotus flower, a symbol of awakening in Buddhist and other spiritual traditions, blooms in the muckiest, muddiest swamps. Its roots begin under the swamp water and its buds reach their way to the surface where they burst forth into stunning pink or white flowers. If you want the beauty of the lotus flower, there is no getting around the mud.

What’s your mud right now? What is your lotus?

For me, my mud is the never-ending grind that is childcare to two small toddlers (ages 2 and 3) in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. I keep thinking – if only I could unload these guys somewhere, I would be FREE. I would be HAPPY. Everything would be better!

But it’s not really the kids that are the mud. The mud is primarily my guilt around the fact that I want to be free of them. I am consumed with shame that this makes me a terrible, ungrateful, unfit mother and human being.

This past Mother’s Day, for example, I asked my husband if he could take the kids so I could be free of them for several hours. That was the only gift I wanted. But as soon as he did, and I took a blissful breath to myself in our empty house, I burst into tears. What kind of monster wishes her kids gone on Mother’s Day? I began having memories of my own mother on Mother’s Day, birthdays – probably even Groundhog Day – saying that all she wanted for these special days was to spend time with us, her kids. I cried even harder, feeling undeserving and ashamed.

And then there’s the shame about not being grateful enough.

I struggled to get pregnant with my first child, and I know so many who are struggling now, with Covid interrupting their plans for IVF, for adoption, or for meeting someone with whom they can start a family. I know of so many single parents who are hanging on by much thinner threads than I as the sole caregivers to their rowdy children. Children are being separated from their parents at our border. Black and brown parents are worried about their children’s survival in the midst of systemic racism and white supremacy on top of a pandemic. 

How dare I complain?

And yet, the thing about desires is that they can’t be finger-wagged away. They can’t be compared away. They cannot even be meditated away. I want space from my kids. I want rest and pause and breaks. I am not my mother. There might be a bit of monster in me. Accepting these things– although inconvenient for my self-conception – is the only way to freedom. No mud, no lotus.

What is the lotus in my situation?

It isn’t necessarily an immediate change of circumstance -- though that would be nice. My lotus is a calm that arrives when I acknowledge how I feel and what I want, even if it is not immediately possible to get it. The lotus is also forgiving myself for wanting things to be different than how they are. Including for being a mom who wants some alone time. That doesn’t make me a monster – it makes me human.

The funny thing is that when I can really face the shame of not being a good enough parent, or not being a loving enough person, and bring that level of inner kindness to it, something interesting happens. I find I have a little more space for my kids. I have a little more patience for all of us struggling together. And I feel more motivation and energy to understand and change the structures that enable and profit from our collective suffering (albeit in wildly disproportionate ways) – within and without.

What if all of the pain, confusion, and difficulty that we’ve experienced during the pandemic are part of the path to freedom? It doesn’t mean we have to like it, or that the pandemic is good, or that things will all work out for the best. It doesn’t mean we would wish it on our worst enemy. But what if radically understanding our current state of suffering is our only chance to move through it? 

Our task, as best as I can see it, is to get to know the muck, both personally and socially. Go around with a flashlight, see and name its parts. We have to breathe through the pain, acknowledge our hearts’ longings, and understand that without delving into the mud, we can’t have the lotus. This muck IS our path. Hope and joy and patience and fortitude are born from opening our heart to the struggle. It may knock us down, but the more we resist or judge or hate on it or ourselves, the more mired in it we become. 

Instead, we can face the mud with a brave heart. We can commit ourselves to keep showing up, even if we don’t want to, with more kindness, more acceptance, more love. “No mud, no lotus” can be a reminder, helping us to see the transformational possibilities of suffering and the possibilities of the lotus flowers, just waiting to bloom.

Yael Shy is the CEO of Mindfulness Consulting, where she supports individuals and institutions with transformative mindfulness coaching, consulting, and teaching. She is the author of What Now? Meditation for Your Twenties and Beyond, and can be found on Instagram at Yaelshy1.

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