I was driving in South Vietnam when I came upon huge fields full of the lotus, the country’s national flower. I stopped to marvel at the sight and soon saw farmers such as this fellow, wading through the washy mud, collecting the blossoms, and placing them in baskets on their backs.
The scene instantly brought to mind one of my favorite sayings of the Vietnamese monk, Thich What Hang: “No mud, no lotus.” In these swampy fields, the lotus seed must germinate in the nourishing stew of water and soil to have the strength to break through the incredible heaviness of mud and rise up to realize its beauty.
The idea of growing from mud reminds me that if we lack challenges, I miss those lessons of growth and overcoming. Falling on one’s face enables us to rise, confront ourselves and our challenges, reach for nourishment, and ultimately gain access to a more meaningful existence.
What is “meaningful existence?” It is wholehearted freedom from illusion—that we’re not enough, bad, wrong, unable to handle conflict. Viewing this image, I am liberated by seeing the blossom as an opportunity for beauty instead of a thing trapped in mud. Remarkably, that gaze compels me to love the mud, adore the swamp, be grateful for the struggle as well as the victory in overcoming. And when I turn to another human being, I find myself embracing the mud and the lotus they have or might become.