Not being one who likes to be stuck indoors all day, I ventured out onto the cliffs by the sea, taking a risk that the black cloud pouring its contents into the sea, would continue its journey away from the land.
I was wrong. It seemingly waited patiently, lulling me into a false sense of security as I climbed the first steep hill of the walk, slipping and sliding all over the place in very deep mud. Already I felt like I was on an assault course. As I turned towards the top of the cliff, my lungs gasping for air, I was met with horizontal hail stones, which stung my face and legs. The cold ice hitting my cheeks gave me one of those momentary ‘ice cream headaches’ that follow eating something very cold. Even though I was very warm with my hood up, eyes peering out of a small gap above the coat zipped up to my nose, somewhat resembling an arctic explorer, my legs were not so well wrapped and they throbbed with the cold and the wet.
Thinking it was a passing shower, I carried on up the mud slope, head down, realising I had got to the point of no return and all I could do was carry on.
As often happens, especially when I am uncomfortable, I began turning the experience into a mindfulness practice. It wasn’t long before the story of the mud and the lotus started coming into my mind.
I recalled the words of Thich Nhat Hanh from the book the ‘No Mud No Lotus’. He said “Walk in such a way that you become fully alive and joy and happiness are possible”. Aha. Well I can honestly say I wasn’t feeling much joy, being pelted by ice, sliding about in thick mud, getting soaked pushing against a constant strong head wind, making me feel like I was swimming upstream.
My whole body was aching from the exertion and yet, I became aware that I was actually exhilarated by the challenge. In the same book I recall Thich Nhat Hanh mentioning that “the bracing sensation of cold air can be a source of feeling joy and aliveness”. I really resonated with that and noticed the centre of my being, warm, strong and connected, despite the external elements.
And so the challenging walk became the practice, like a mantra. Breathing in I know I am breathing in, breathing out, I know I am breathing out. My face and legs are cold and wet. My body is warm and perspiring. My whole body is tingling with energy rushing through. My heart is pounding, but here I am, in this moment, fully present and very alive. And there is a joy in that.
When guiding the daily practice I often invite participants to bring to mind a smile or something good in their lives, despite the challenging times they are facing. When I noticed the acute sense of aliveness I was experiencing, I also took note of my surroundings. I found no beauty in the mud, wind and rain, but when I looked up, instead of down at my feet in the mud, I noticed the colours where the sky met the sea was a beautiful inky blue, bleeding into deep turquoise. I became aware of the Belted Galloway cattle – absolutely gorgeous large fluffy cows that look like big teddy bears. They were totally oblivious to the rain – carrying on in just the same way they usually do on any other day, just staring with curiosity as I passed by. A baby ‘Beltie’ was running across the field just for the joy of it. A peregrine falcon soared across the sky in front of me. I never fail to gasp and smile at the sheer mastery of the air this bird of prey has, as it folds its wings back and soars like a torpedo through the sky. A tiny glimpse of the Wintry setting sun cast a glimmer of golden light across the sea and made all the grass look golden and dewy. Drops of rain on the cobwebs caught on fences glistened like diamonds. Suddenly the world seemed different. By allowing my self to see the beauty caused me to smile.
Yet again, I gave thanks to my mindfulness practice for allowing me to remember to be mindful whatever I am doing. To be present, is all I have, whatever I am doing, I need to embrace the experience.
I pondered how the experience of the walk was just like life. Despite battling with the elements, I also found a balance in the beauty of things. I found a strong centre that carried on through the difficult weather, just like in life, and yet there was part of me that embraced the moment and the aliveness of it all, knowing that this would pass and soon I would be home, warm and dry. This familiar walk wouldn’t always be muddy, cold, wet and difficult. I will see it bathed in sunshine and be able to rest with a flask of tea in the warmth, rather than huddled behind a style in the lashing rain up to my ankles in mud, taking a welcome sip of tea.
In the Level 2 – Responding with Compassion Course we learn about the mud and the lotus. How the mud represents our darker side – the difficulties we experience and the challenging emotions such as desire, envy, pride and anger etc, and how this is the stuff that we want to get rid of – just like me wanting to get rid of the cold, mud and rain. Yet as the uphill struggle ended and the path winded downwards towards my home, thoughts of a warm, soothing bath filled my mind. I could already smell the lavender and rose salts that would nurture my aching body which had endured and could see the end of the suffering.
As I lay in the bath I really appreciated the walk, the mud, the rain, the cold just as I appreciate the difficult times I have experienced in my life. For these times do pass and there is a strength and wisdom in it as equilibrium arrives as I let in some kindness and goodness.
I invite you to recall a challenging time in your life. Are you able to see the good that came from it? Maybe a new strength, a kindness or an insight of wisdom?
I would love to hear your comments, so please do write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment after this post.
Take care in the mud out there
Jacky will be guiding the Mindfulness Level One Being Present Online Course over 16 Wednesday evening sessions starting 3rd February, 2021 and guiding the Mindfulness Level One Being Present Course Scheduled to be held at Samye Ling(or online) with Alan Hughes, starting 5th March 2021. She is also guiding a new Stillness Through Movement 6 week Online Course starting Tuesday evenings on 12th January 2021.
Jacky has contributed a chapter to the Mindful Heroes Book entitled “Turning Empathic Distress into Compassion – A Hero’s Journey for Family Carers”. You can hear an extract from the chapter where she talks about the results of her MSc Studies in Mindfulness on Compassion & Family Carers. You can download a free sample of Jacky’s chapter here.
Hanh, T.N., 2014. No mud, no lotus: The art of transforming suffering. Parallax Press.
Mindfulness Association., 2019. Compassion Manual.