The Buddha used the word ‘Dukkha’ to refer to our suffering, that which is hard to bear. The reason this was central to his teachings is that we all experience it, generally we don’t like it, and yet we don’t know what to do with it! Oftentimes, we try to avoid feelings which are uncomfortable and situations which we find difficult.
A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to spend time at Plum Village, the meditation centre of Thich Nhat Hanh. At Plum Village, there is a beautiful pond full of lotus flowers, which Thich Nhat Hanh sometimes refers to as a way of illustrating his teachings. One of my favourites is ‘No Mud, No Lotus’:
“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness to grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”
The lotus flower grows out of the mud, the mud provides the nutrients and the ground for the flower to grow in, after all, a flower cannot grow in mid air. Human beings also need a kind of mud for our personal growth – the mud represents life experiences. If all our experiences were positive, we wouldn’t learn anything (our mud would lack nutrients!). We wouldn’t know the capacity of the heart to open to the greatest sadness as well as the most profound joy. If we try to live in a way that is protected and safe (which is actually what many of us do), we become either numb or at best unfulfilled. In a way, these deep experiences of joy and sadness are similar – they both require an ability to feel and if we can’t feel sadness, we can’t feel joy either.
If we know what to do with our suffering, it can actually take us along the path which leads to joy – herein lies our potential for transformation. The most important thing to do is to learn to be with our suffering – to recognise it, allow it, not try to push it away, be present with it. Sounds simple, but this practice can be very challenging and we may experience some resistance along the way.
Meditation is the practice of being present with ourselves, so that we can be aware of how we are feeling in any given moment. Much of the time, we are not aware of how we are feeling or reacting. Deeply rooted emotions from past experience influence the way we respond and act. Through regular meditation, we cultivate mindfulness – a quality which enables us to be aware of what we are doing and how we are responding. We can begin to recognise habitual behaviour patterns that aren’t useful, be more present with any given situation and choose how we respond. Having the courage to turn towards our innermost fears both strengthens us and brings healing.
Excerpt from ‘No Mud, No Lotus’ – Meditation and Supper Evening at Lime House Yoga Studio, March 10, 2017