No Mud, No Lotus
My friend Beth sent me the image above of the beautiful blue mushrooms growing out of the sludge in her trash compactor, headed for the compost heap.
We both immediately thought of “No mud, no lotus,” the teachings of the venerable Zen Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hanh. The beautiful lotus flower, symbol of awakening and enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition, grows only out of the deep muck of shallow ponds. “No mud, no lotus” is a short-cut way of remembering ancient wisdom: we grow into our own enlightened wisdom out of muck, suffering, adversity.
The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man without trails.
We’re not out of the woods yet about the coronavirus pandemic yet, no way to predict what the new normal will be, or how soon. But people are trying to sort out what new possibilities might be and what lessons we need to learn from what has happened already.
[See WIRED, June 17, 2020. We must be able to forecast and be prepared for another virus outbreak as well as we prepare for terrorism and hurricanes.]
I often teach the practice of creating a coherent narrative to place traumatizing events in proper perspective, learning the lessons we can, and claiming that we can learn as we move into an uncertain future.
We can learn to reframe entire traumatizing events, or series of events, or a lifetime of events, into what’s known in trauma therapy as a coherent narrative. A narrative that includes the trauma as part of the story, but the trauma is not the whole story. When a person can come to a new larger sense of identity and purpose that includes the trauma but is not entirely defined by the trauma, then the trauma can take its place in the story without determining the rest of the story.
Even though the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic are not over, not yet, you can create a coherent narrative about events that have already happened to gain insight into how you have learned to “play an active role in how adversity transforms you.” (Kelly McGonigal in The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You and How to Get Good at It.)
Identify one event or challenge you want to work with. I do strongly suggest this is an event that you did cope with, processed and learned from. It’s in the past. It’s important to work with something that has not much risk of being re-triggered.
Follow these prompts as a written reflection:
1. This is what happened; these were the consequences.
Use your mindfulness and self-compassion practices to be able to come to that observer awareness and acceptance and relate to the event somewhat objectively rather than caught in the trauma response.
2. These were the resources, practices, tools and coping strategies I used at the time.
Brilliant strategies that kept us alive. Honest awareness and acceptance, so no shame-blame. Claim credit for what you did. Also recovering strengths and resources you did have at the time.
3. These are the resources, etc. I would use now if I could do this over.
Because there has been new growth and new learning. This step integrates that learning. And rehearsing trains, pre-wires the brain for resilience next time.
4. These were the lessons I learned, growth I experienced, positive meanings I found.
Taking time with this because this IS the turning point of moving from trauma into post-traumatic growth. This helps reverse the impact of suffering and resignation. You become more empowered, recover strengths, gain more self-control, experience more pro-active learning, return to active problem solving, believe you can cope and improve through effort and support. You get to claim that you are stronger than you think. “I can handle this.” With a resilience mindset, you can handle anything.
5. Set the intention to prepare well for the next crisis that comes along.
From a famous military adage:” Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance.” We rehearse how we will cope with the next catastrophe which develops our trust in ourselves that we will.