Lotus blossoms rise from mud and water to bloom and display their elegant, full beauty in a variety of colors. As we emerge from 2020 into the new year and look back upon the challenges of the pandemic and social justice unrest, I first thought of a phoenix rising from the ashes. With this image of a worker whose task it is to collect lotus flowers and seeds, I found myself circling instead to this national flower of Vietnam.
Instantly, I was aware of the truths revealed in this botanical symbol of purity, enlightenment, and rebirth. If we didn’t have the mud—or, in the immediate, metaphoric example of the past year, the adversity—we might not recognize high elation, be alert to beauty, or have a full appreciation for light in our lives that contrasts the darkness. We need that comparative element. Without it, our emotions may be flat.
The highly regarded Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, says “no mud, no lotus.” 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, and although none of us enjoys being “in mud,” we see possibility, hope, and beauty in rising from our challenges with our spirits intact, perhaps with spirits surprisingly refreshed and determined.
The nutritious lotus seeds found in the pod that remains when the petals fall away offers sustainable energy. The seeds fuel the next generation of lotus flowers and feed humans who dry the seeds and use them in soups or as a paste in baked goods. In the same way, 2021 invites us to rise from the “mud” of the past year and once again, blossom, create new seeds, and rediscover hope, beauty, and purpose.