I’m not sure if I’ll have internet connections over the next two weeks. Then again, diving into the Upaya Chaplaincy Program may not leave me with much time to submit missives from the front! So, anticipating the latter, I’ve set up the first chapter of the guidebook for our mindfulness program as a series of posts. I hope you find it useful.
The lotus remains unstained
By its muddy roots,
Bright jewels from common dew.
Our mental life is like a glass filled with water and mud. Sometimes the contents are still and settled. We can live adequately with the fact that parts of our life are clear and other parts are mucky with slime and ooze. In fact, many Buddhist teachers say that slime and ooze is crucial to our personal growth. Lotuses begin their life in the mud, cradled and nourished there until the blooms rise above the water clean and untainted by the messiness under water. It’s an inspiring image because most of us aspire to rise above all the inner turmoil and “ickiness” to be beautiful. We want to be able to roll with the punches, share in the joys of others, and take in a beautiful sunset.
Sometimes, the contents of the glass are stirred up. When we experience anger, anxiety, depression, frustration, grief, loss, or some challenge to our perception of ourselves or others, mud and water mix to form a system that is murky. In these moments, we lose sight of the clarity of water and all we see is a mess of mud. Whatever we have encountered seems to be the entirety of our being.
In the poem, The Guesthouse, Rumi asks us to invite in as guests depression, meanness, dark thoughts, shame, and malice as a way of learning from these experiences. However, when we are overcome with such muddiness, it feels like these visitors have taken up every nook and cranny of our mind with no room left for love, compassion, joy or kindness. In fact, we can become quite convinced that the clarity of the water that we saw over the mud was an illusion and the muddy mixture is the absolute reality. We come to believe the worst of whoever has hurt us. The roadblock in our career path takes on monumental proportions. The consequence of a lost contract or upset client becomes a catastrophe that will threaten our lifestyle. The end of a relationship or of good health seems like the end of our life. In that mental state, we take our unskillful actions as evidence of our unworthiness.