“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering
No lotus without the mud. No deep happiness without having known pain and suffering. A constant balancing of the two. Human life. I am like the frog on the lily pad, floating tentatively over the mud, watching the lotus flower grow. I have known such pain. Now I believe in happiness, I know it exists, I will find it, slowly, quietly, and with reverence for all that has come before.
Months ago I heard the phrase No Mud, No Lotus, and it struck such a chord in me I wrote it on a post-it note and stuck it on the side of my computer. Agonizing months of debilitating anxiety and devastating depression kept me deep in the mud, and almost unable to breathe I would stare at that post-it note and hold fast to the truth recorded there. If mud, then lotus. There had to be a way to transcend the suffering and come out into the light. I longed to hold a lotus flower in my hands. I held fast to that vision and that little post-it note kept me going.
Today I ordered Thich Nhat Hanh’s book of the same name. I plan not just to read it but to study it. He has been such a profound teacher for me through his gentle books on kindness, compassion, and peace, inner peace, and peace in the world. Now he will teach me the art of transforming suffering. It is the most important thing that I need to know right now.
I look around me and so many people are suffering and in pain, they feel all alone, they feel like outcasts, they feel that there is no happiness for them, how could there ever be? I will be 63 on the 30th of this month and I have been hurt and afraid, crippled by fear and suffocated by anxiety and depression since I was a child. It would be easy to give up, to not believe that there was a way out of this but I believe there is a way, just as one of the most unimaginably beautiful flowers rises up from the mud, through the murky depths, and raises it’s head above the water, blooming fully in the sunshine, I, too, can rise up above all that I have known, I can be beauty, I can be happy, I can shine. If I didn’t believe this was true I couldn’t bear to still be here. I believe it to be true. I want to find a way to bloom and reach out to others.
And we don’t have one without the other. We don’t erase suffering. That wouldn’t be possible. Thich Nhat Hanh says that the art of happiness is the art of suffering well. He teaches us to gently tend our suffering to find our way to happiness. I have a basket full of mental health diagnoses that I carry with me through life. They are not going to go away. They are part of my existence. But I am learning the art of suffering well. I am learning to take care of all of the bits and parts and pieces of my life so that I can keep moving forward. And I am supported and loved, we have to have support. If you don’t feel that you have any, please, reach out and find some now.
Last Thursday, as she did for the previous appointment, my daughter Rachel went with me to see the psychiatrist who manages my meds. These appointments are daunting. Since I have no insurance I have to go to the clinic and see one particular doctor. He is not warm nor comforting. He is very serious, he never looks me in the eye but types on the computer the whole time he is asking me questions. He has a very strong accent and speaks so softly that he is hard to understand and nearly impossible to hear. And if you ask him to repeat himself because you couldn’t understand he gets irritated. I am an absolute wreck going into those appointments so Rachel has begun going with me. She is a psychologist and while this is not her field she understands a lot about all of this and she knows me and the truth of my situation. She asks questions I don’t think to ask, she helps clarify things. This time one of my medications was stopped, another is tapering off, while I am starting a brand new one. It is a complex business, mental health care. Nothing seems really clear. It is an art and a science and I’d say a bit of guesswork. He questioned one of my diagnoses that was given to me over 15 years ago and which has defined my treatment, and the way I have understood things, the way I have shaped my life and had something to hold onto. I felt disoriented by it, and left a bit confused and uneasy with my new regimen of medications. I dropped Rachel back off at home and drove to the pharmacy. And in the midst of it all I bought a beautiful bouquet of flowers, orchid colored stocks, a big fat bouquet. They are stunning and they smell gorgeous. Waist deep in the mud I was hungry for beauty. I clutched those flowers as if to life itself. They helped me breathe. They have made a beautiful space in my home. Happiness and suffering, side by side. They are both possible.
Now my work must needs be done in silence. I have been flailing about trying to create whole new worlds of work and different ways of living and being. And it was not wise. I have been coming out of months worth of crippling anxiety with no firm footing on this terra firma. First I need to find a way to be more balanced, to find peace, and calm, to be able to breathe more deeply, to see more clearly. And I need to clean things up, to organize my surroundings. My studio is in a state of terrible disarray. I work in a small area on a very large, long table that is cluttered with so much stuff I cannot find any serenity. My house needs to be cleaned. This is part of my work now, to clean my house and organize my life so that I can find my way into the clearing where I can really see what’s what. As I sort it all out I will begin to grow up out of the mud, through the murky water, and be drawn up out of the water by the rays of light shimmering on the surface. I am planted firmly in the mud. I will just as surely become the lotus, and I will tend them both, the suffering and the happiness, day by day.
Perhaps this blog will become the journal of my transcendence. I will record it all, step by step, inch by inch. I feel a quivering inside, a knowing, the kind of knowing that brings with it a kind of peace. I was not meant to suffer and die, none of us were. We can do this, I will do this, I have to believe that this is possible. I know in my deepest heart that this is true. I am writing these words to you now, I am slipping them carefully as if into an envelope made of beautiful handmade paper. I am sending them with care and love to you where you are. If you are suffering and afraid know that there is more than this. There is the mud, there is the lotus, there is our life, and we will tend it well. We will find our way.