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. —Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk and one of the best-known Zen Buddhist teachers in the world. His book, No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, resonated deeply with me during the most challenging moments of my healing journey. I even named the house my husband and I built “Casa Lotus,” and I titled my book On the Way to Casa Lotus.
The central message of No Mud, No Lotus is that suffering is necessary to happiness. Just as the lotus flower grows best when planted in the mud, the peace and serenity that we seek often grow in the dark, difficult seasons of life. Too often, we fear pain, run from pain, resent pain. But pain is a part of our existence. If we hide from it, we hide from life itself.
The physical and emotional suffering from a surgeon’s catastrophic mistake didn’t just feel like a flowerbed of mud. It felt like an ocean of mud. For a long time, I couldn’t see past the darkness and despair. The mistake seemed pointless, and that pointlessness was frustrating. Why didn’t the surgeon pay more attention? Why did the original report mislabel the adrenal gland that needed to be removed? Why was I suffering so needlessly?
I felt like a victim. This had been done to me, by someone else, without any error on my part. And yet, I had to live with the consequences forever.
The problem with being a victim, though, is that it leaves you powerless. It removes your agency, which means your ability to choose your own path. It undermines your autonomy, which is your right to be free from the control of outside forces. And it poisons your identity, which is your own view of who you are.
Rather than seeing myself as a victim of the mud, I had to learn that my pain and suffering were ultimately creating a beauty that otherwise would not have existed. Suffering was not the enemy. I couldn’t give in to it, but I couldn’t resent it, either. Instead, I learned to use it, to lean into it, to learn from it.
I began to see the lotus in the mud. And when I found the lotus, the mud took on a beauty all its own.
I’ve learned a lot about mud in my healing journey. More than I ever wished to know! But I wouldn’t change it for anything now. Here are five “mud mindsets,” or ways to view pain, that have helped me navigate my journey.
Respect your pain. Honor suffering for what it is: a force in your life that you cannot always escape. Learn to acknowledge its presence without resentment or despair. It is a force that deserves to be recognized.
Along with respect for your pain, respect yourself and your journey. You are strong, wise, and able. Don’t allow panic or fear to write your narrative. Breathe in grace for the journey, breathe out respect for your resilience.
Ultimately, suffering is an ally. It is a friend. It is a force that works for your good, impossible as that might seem right now. The dark moments are shaping you, transforming you, growing you. If you can thank the pain for what it is accomplishing, you will keep your perspective balanced. You will be a beneficiary of the process rather than a victim of it.
The mud comes first, and there is always a time of waiting before the lotus blooms. Right now, the circumstances around you might seem to contradict the vision of happiness in your head, but give it time. A flower is growing even though you can’t see it. Let trouble do its work. Let pain run its course. This isn’t passivity, but rather perseverance: quiet strength under pressure.
We are small in the universe, and it is good to be reminded of that. Success that comes too easily can make us arrogant and aloof, but the happiness that comes after suffering makes us compassionate, merciful, and kind.
Although you are small, you are enough. Just as you are. Humility means knowing who you are and who you are not and then being confident in that.
Things will get better, friend. Believe for a better tomorrow. The mud does not define you, it only prepares you for a more beautiful future. Yes, you honor the pain, and you are grateful for it, and you have patience in it, and you remain humble because of it. But you also have faith because pain cannot hold you back. It can only move you forward. Hidden in the mud, your flower is growing. It might be slow, even invisible, but it is unstoppable.
You will rise. Your beauty will blossom. Your happiness and peace will prevail. I am thinking of you, dear friend, and I am praying for you. You might be surrounded by mud, but you are a lotus.