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A Message in the Mud

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

“There can be no lotus flower without the mud.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

A piece of my inner work this January has been a spiritual immersion in mud. It began with this dream, set on the family farm following a spring rain:

…I anticipate a pleasant splash as I walk quickly through the puddle. The knee-high rain boots I am wearing protect me so there is no need to avoid it. But I step right into thick, cold, mud which comes up to my knee. Instantly I feel frustrated, trapped, and mad that I didn’t recognize how deep it is, and how difficult it would be to free myself from it. I looked around for someone to blame.

I awoke quite frustrated. Replaying the dream in my mind, I noticed the cold sticky mess still clung to my leg.

Inside of a week, four signs have invited me to remain “with” the mud.

Mud sign #1: The day after the dream, a spiritual director colleague brought to our monthly peer support meeting a book she recommended, “No Mud, No Lotus,” by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Mud sign #2: During our meeting, I pulled out a notebook to record the title of the book she recommended; the journal fell open to a center page which already contained the book’s title. Near as I can tell, the book was discussed during a dream analysis class. I don’t recall hearing about it before, but there it was, circled in the margin of my class notes.

Mud sign #3: Three days after the dream, I participated in a dream group. The dream that was offered by another participant included fresh mud. Lots of it.

Mud sign #4: That same afternoon, I listened to a lecture about alchemy. As the speaker approached the podium she commented about the rainy day, and the mud that was all around. She invited us to metaphorically link arms to keep ourselves from falling too deep into it.

Getting stuck in the mud of life is something we can all relate to. We often wish we had seen it coming and had done something to avoid it. Most of us immediately try to escape and clean up! But Thich Nhat Hahn points out that dirt and water are both necessary nutrients for flowers, and the denser the mud around the root ball of a lotus flower, the more brilliantly it thrives.

Taking a step into a mud puddle of my dreamscape is an opportunity to immerse myself in discomfort. Though my reaction in the dream was to look for someone to blame for my situation, I view it now as a chance to pause and acknowledge my discomfort, rather than allowing myself to be overwhelmed.

Re-entering my dream, I feel the tension organically dissipate rather than building. As the cold mud seeps down into my boot I look around the family farm of my youth. Not to find someone to blame for what I step into, but to notice and give thanks for the hay loft I played in, the grain bins I climbed on, the calves I fed, and the chicken coop I collected eggs from. I see pigs rolling in the mud just to the west of the puddle I am in. Their playful grunts speak to me about the joys of mud.

Pigs, hyenas, elephants, and hippos are mud-lovers who have managed to stay in the moment, rather than making themselves victims of worry or regret. They lean into the soothing nature of mud, allowing their embodiment to serve them rather than weigh them down.

I believe the dream-maker created a mud puddle to help me wrestle with my expectation that the mud of life must always be avoided. Be curious about the Images, animals, symbols, and settings in your dreams. Drop into past dreams in real time as you explore any intense emotions or situations. Let yourself wander safely in and out of the dream, trusting that it all comes in service to you.

Pleased to be on the journey with you.


Photo credit to Kathy Mansfield, North Carolina: a mud puddle/watering hole . . . and a happy hyena (photo credit Africa) .

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