The way of the Lotus

The lotus flower is considered one of the most sacred flowers around the world. For the Hindus and Buddhists, the Lotus is revered and symbolizes purity, beauty, grace, fertility, wealth, richness, knowledge and serenity. In ancient Egypt, the meaning of the lotus flower was one of creation, rebirth and symbolized the sun, while in ancient Greece, the lotus flower meaning was of innocence, modesty and purity.

The symbolism found in the Buddhism tradition is derived from the life cycle of the lotus flower. The flower begins in dark, murky waters only to bloom by day, unspoiled and untouched by the mud from which it came. The spiritual meaning comes from the idea of being born in a world of struggle (murky waters) and opening up to or attaining spiritual enlightenment.

Many of the Hindu Gods are shown as either standing on a lotus flower or holding it in their hands. In the Hindu tradition, it is the highest human aspiration to be like the lotus flower- perform the Dharma without being attached to the world. It represents the highest level of consciousness when searching for enlightenment and purity.

The lotus flower is fascinating. The plant has its roots firmly in the mud and sends out long stems to which their leaves are attached. The leaves are sometimes, and the flowers always raised above the surface of the water. It submerges into the muddy waters each night only to emerge over a three-day period and bloom in the presence of the sunlight. Petals uniquely designed to repel water, showing no visible signs of mud from where it had emerged. Lotus flowers rely on their underground roots for their survival.

The lotus flower is also extremely adaptable and can withstand highly adverse conditions. In he early 1990s, Shen-Miller led a UCLA research team that recovered a viable lotus seed that was almost 1,300 years old from a lakebed in northeastern China. They collected 100 lotus seeds that were close o 400–500 years old and astonishingly, 80% of the lotus seeds that were tested for viability germinated.

They concluded that the plant must have a powerful genetic system capable of repairing germination defects that would come about from hundreds of years of aging. One theory is that the genes may be connected to the unusual environment of the lotus, with its roots submerged in muddy water. The lotus flower can withstand freezing temperatures and has the ability to regulate its own temperature, much like warm blooded animals can regulate their body temperature.

As I considered the implications of the incredible life of the sacred Lotus flower, I found myself feeling somewhat underwhelmed by symbolic interpretation I came across over and over in my reading. The idea that somehow the Lotus had left behind, indeed, overcame its shadowy murky origins and found enlightenment in its quest for the light. Of course, I was not surprised. That seems to be the narrative we humans gravitate toward. Good overcomes evil, light beats out darkness, yeah, yeah, I know how this goes.

The problem with this narrative though is that it does not take into account the entirety of the story of the lotus. Listen, I am no botanist, but it seems to me that the exquisite beauty of the flowering lotus owes everything to the roots that live in the muddy depths. The intricate root system providing the necessary nutrients to allow this flower to bloom. It is only in our deep, dark muddy home that we find sufficient solitude to cultivate our vision clearly enough to repair what feels broken and support our necessary growth and evolution.

It seems so many of us want to believe in this short-sighted symbolism. If I just work hard enough, try to be good enough, somehow, I will be able to leave the shadowy darkness and live out my days out under the warm embrace of the sun. We effort, we manipulate, we strive to propagate an idealized image of ourselves and our world, and we deny anything that does not fit into this picture we have carefully crafted for ourselves and those around us. So why are we surprised to hear in the news that the wealthy have bought admission for their children into elite schools? We place such a premium, on appearing like the Lotus after it has emerged, perfect and beautiful. We place no value on the journey that precedes the morning bloom. A journey filled with hardship, struggle, failure and strife.

This journey is imperative in that its function serves to build the necessary foundation to prepare us to live this human existence. The thick reed coming from the roots below that attaches the leaves and the bloom above water is what provides the nutrients to feed the flower and allow it to grow. It is in the depths, the shadows, that the flower finds what it needs to sustain life. Without the roots that lie submerged in the muck, there would be no beautiful flowering of the sacred Lotus.

The way of the Lotus reminds us to find value in those places in our own lives that can feel incredibly messy and hard to access as they lie hidden in the murky depths of our psyche. Don’t be fooled by appearances. The treasure is here. All that is vital and meaningful on this path of being human is found in this place. Resilient like the lotus, our soul, residing far beneath our own muddy waters is capable of withstanding the most adverse of circumstances ,only to be reborn once again.

Waiting for the necessary confluence of events and support that will allow our full beauty to break the surface of the water and announce our place in all that is, all that ever has been, and all that will ever be. We must embrace the interconnectedness of all things and let go of our need to reject all that we find to be difficult and dark. Trusting that it is all a integral part of the journey we are all on, feeding and nurturing us, honing our self-regulatory processes, supporting our growth and teaching us about the tremendous resilience of the human spirit.

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