“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”
Awe and wonder have inspired unprecedented throngs of visitors from around the world to flock to the deserts of Southern California to witness the spectacular super bloom of flowers this spring. People everywhere are piling the kids, dogs and cameras into cars and heading out to the state park in Anza-Borrego to frolic in golden fields of flowers that look like they came right out of the Wizard of Oz with their brightly vivid colors and endless fields of gold, purple and red.
I’m one of them, to be sure.
What is remarkable about the super bloom isn’t just the scale of the majesty and wonder of what nature’s finest bloom looks and smells like at the beginning of Spring.
It’s also about how and why it happened.
The simple answer?
Lots and lots and lots of rain (at least by drought-stricken California's standards).
Inconvenient, make-you-late-to-work, find the galoshes you left in Seattle when you moved and make your skin frizz out, kind of rain.
The kind of rain that throws your plans out the window, makes you wonder when it is ever going to end and that -- just when it seems to be done for the season -- pours down once again.
That is the kind of rain that leads to super blooms: big, messy, uncontrollable. The kind you are utterly powerless to successfully resist and can only sit back, surrender to and trust will eventually pass.
When it comes to living a meaningful, fulfilling and joyful life, we all want to frolic in the super bloom.
We want the golden glow of thriving, compassionate, kind children. We want the fragrant scent of our work to inspire those around us. We want our health to blossom vigorously even as we get on in years (can you say creaky joints anyone?). We want verdant gardens of authentic friendships, creative pursuits, healthy romantic relationships and abundant surroundings, communities and nations.
Yet when it comes to the process of watching the gardens in our lives transform from the barren, dry desert into the super bloom, we want instant results.
And when we don’t get them, we viciously judge the hell out of ourselves.
These are the words, and more, that we often use to viciously judge ourselves when we don’t get a super bloom in 8.2 seconds.
God knows I’ve done it more times than I like to admit. And it’s something I see in my brilliant, compassionate, hard-working and committed clients all the time, too.
After all, who wants to be in the process of transformation?
Who wants to be messy and have your guts spilling out telling people your marriage is actually a sham, that you’re afraid to admit how you are still in immobilizing pain two years after your daughter died, that you both love and hate your dying mother, that you’re tired of the soul crushing work you do to pay the bills?
But it is precisely in being open and allowing each and every one of these thoughts, feelings and emotions to arise (and fall) that allows them to move through you, and to clear the way out for something more beautiful -- like the poppies and verbena -- to bloom.
The question is: where and how do we begin?
The first step is committing to a regular mindfulness practice.
If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know that with a regular practice of sitting and focusing on your breath for just 10 minutes a day, for example, you can begin to experience what it is like to allow thoughts, feelings and emotions to arise and fall without judgment.
What most of us do is judge ourselves mercilessly: this is a good thought or feeling, this is a bad thought or feeling.
I shouldn’t resent my kid that I have to wash his bed after he peed in it - he’s only three, after all. But I do.
I shouldn’t complain that I have so much work as an actor when most of my friends would kill to be in my shoes. But I do.
I shouldn’t feel jealous of my friend who is thinner/smarter/more successful. But I do.
I shouldn’t feel anger and hatred toward my mother who is dying of cancer. But I do.
We all have these kinds of thoughts, feelings and emotions. And they all pass. It doesn't mean you are a vicious person when you have a cruel or nasty thought or even an outburst: it means you are human.
With regular mindfulness practice, you get better at watching these all arise in your mind, noting them with compassion and letting them go without judgment.
Second, we need to begin to trust in our own basic goodness.
That we aren’t bad people trying to be good or on the “hustle for your worthiness” as Brene Brown puts it, but that we are already intrinsically good, whole, worthy and decent human beings.
Just as we trust that Spring will come after Winter, we can trust in our own innate wholeness, goodness and worthiness, what is often called our Buddha mind. That even though this moment may be a season of darkness, pain, illness, and struggle, and that we may be embroiled in what psychologist, author and meditation teacher Tara Brach calls “the trance of unworthiness”, that our own essential goodness is the ground of our being and can guide the way.
This is especially important to do when society and pressure from well-meaning co-workers, friends and family find your current state to be a deviation of what is a socially-acceptable norm.
Caring for my mother, with whom I had a profoundly complicated and challenging relationship but that was healed in a beautiful way when she finally transitioned after her cancer experience, was probably the most personally rewarding act of sacred service I have ever had the privilege to experience in my life. And there were many, many, many times when I howled and wailed like a banshee as old, sclerotic patterns of not feeling seen, good enough, understood or loved arose in me. For many of my loved ones, it was surely distressing for them to watch me go through the emotional ringer with each iteration of the same old dance and song we had always done.
But deep inside of me, there was an awareness - a trust in the basic goodness that was within myself, my mother and in each of us - that would carry me through the season of torrential downpours, even when it looked difficult on the outside. It was as if that awareness was telling me this season of my life was the mud that Vietnamese monk, peace activist and Nobel Peace prize nominee Thich Nhat Hanh spoke of and that from it would arise beautiful lotus flowers.
And that is precisely what I have experienced.
Cultivating a meaningful and fulfilling life isn’t for the faint-hearted, to be sure. Enormous dollops of self-compassion, not self-judgment, are required.
And that is surely a daily practice.
Society, conditioning, saboteurs (internal and external), our self-image, ego-ic defenses, a lack of self-compassion and old survival patterns all invite us to stay stuck in the status quo.
To stay in the job that sucks your soul.
To continue spending time with friends that you have nothing in common with anymore because you feel bad and don’t want them to be mad at you.
To keep pretending as if one more doughnut, drink or skipped trip to the gym won’t matter.
But you know better. You read this long blog post to the very end.
Because deep down inside of you, you want the super bloom, too.
And you’re willing to continue to be with the sunshine, and the rain, as they come.