“…Without mud, you cannot have a lotus flower. Without suffering, you have no ways in order to learn how to be understanding and compassionate…. Happiness is the lotus flower, and the suffering is the mud. So the practice is how to make use of the suffering, make use of the mud, to create the flower, the happiness, and this is possible.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
If you have been following this blog for the past couple months, you may be aware I have been on sort of an existential journey to reconcile the paradox of accepting who we are, and striving for change. (Thoughts on habit & change, Reflections on the duality of human nature, Don’t forget the other half, Trial & Error, Aftermath of Boston Marathon, Presence: Day 3)
I have literally spent my entire conscious life – since I was seven – trying to reconcile this paradox within myself. The paradox exists through consumption of endless resources to learn how to be the best version of myself while continually struggling and striving to be a “better” person, versus wanting to just be ignorantly blissful and happy and not care about all my imperfections. To not even think about my endless list of imperfections. Because of this ongoing struggle, I will spend months being the buddha girl, only to turn around and rebel against the difficulty to then spend months being the pagan girl.
The problem is that I am painfully aware of the dormant version of myself the entire time, waiting for this version to come back. Like if I am being “good” in my practice, I keep looking over my shoulder for the “bad habit” girl to bludgeon me out of existence and return, knowing full well, she will be back. Similarly, when I am enjoying the life of pure earthly pleasure, there is always the tiny voice in the back of my head keeping me from fully enjoying the moment of mindlessness.
But this is not a post about how this drags me down continually, and makes me depressed. It is a post about reconciliation. It is a post about mindfulness.
This most recent revelation comes from a validating moment of clarity I found through Leo Babauta’s course I am taking – Zen of Work. Yesterday, while working through the course, I listened to a talk by Susan O’Connell, Zen Priest and President of San Francisco Zen Center, called, Practicing in the Mud.
Listening to her talk, it was as though all of what I have been thinking about recently was being articulated out loud by another voice. The same struggle, the same journey, the same unanswered questions. There is some sense of peace in not being alone with my crazy tangential thoughts. To know that someone who is a life-long practitioner even now struggles with this paradox. In her talk, Susan’s working definition of freedom from this paradox is, “freedom from having to think about freedom.”
In this sentence, I found a moment of clarity.
I realized that despite the struggles I have with reconciliation, I am so very happy to be a “lotus in the mud.”
It is through all the pain, awareness, and struggles that I have had – and still have – that I have begun to blossom into who I am now.
My name, Susan, literally means “lotus.” I shortened it to “Susi” many years ago, because I did not identify with “Susan.” Which I find interesting. In reflecting on the duality of human nature and more specifically, on the duality of my own lifelong existence, the clarity I am finding is that I like living in the mud, and it is more likely that if I managed to successfully extract myself from the lessons of the mud, I would no longer exist.
So. Mindfulness includes the freedom to no longer view this path as a struggle of pain, failure, and constant imperfection and is finally within grasp. It is through this awareness, acceptance and welcoming of our imperfections, pain, and struggles that brings growth and the beautiful lotus flower to our existence.
It isn’t necessarily a paradox after all. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive. Perhaps they can exist in perfect harmony. As a lotus in the mud.
Do you have an experience or comment to share about your own life journey of growth?
Note: I would like to thank Jonathan Rhys Meyers for linking to this post from his fansite page. I welcome readers from his site to check out some of my other posts along this journey of 52 Changes, and comment here.