No Mud, No Lotus: Getting through the mental, emotional, and spiritual mud when taking a leap of faith
“Nature is not in a hurry, and yet everything is accomplished.” —Lao Tzu
I read Lao Tzu’s words one morning on a little paper square strung on my cup of tea. The wise one in me agreed. The practical one scoffed.
Finding your center, living in the present, and moving gracefully through the world sounds so easy, but in modern-day society, it is one of the hardest things to do. Every day is a battle, and we have become so conditioned to this reality that we forget to ask ourselves, what are we really fighting for?
In the Celtic book of wisdom, Anam Cara , author John O’Donohue writes, “One of the reasons so many people are suffering from stress is not that they are doing stressful things, but that they allow so little time for silence.”
He continues, “Only in solitude can you discover a sense of your own beauty.”
We work, we push, and we delay our dreams for years to earn refuge from the noise. We bet on some faraway hope that one day we’ll lie in a hammock on a quiet beach and be free.
Like so many others, I subscribed to this set of beliefs. I kept thinking, “If I work harder, when I get better, I’ll beat this game.” Then I realized, you don’t beat the game.
The only way out is to do the inconceivable: to surrender.
What’s so ironic is, as soon as you let go, you realize surrender is about liberation, not defeat.
By freeing your mind, you get to make your own plans and prepare for the real journey ahead.
You may be asking, “But where do I start? Am I ready? And what journey?”
- Start where you are. As you are. Step by step. Breath by breath. Today.
- You will know you are ready when you’re finished suffering.
- As for the journey, Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjold says, “The longest journey is the journey inward.”
Your journey will be unique to you, but I believe much of the mental, emotional, and spiritual mud we must go through in realizing our dreams is the same.
From what I’ve found, getting through the mud requires three key steps:
Step 1: Surrender
From what I’ve learned about change, the most profound shifts are not in your thoughts (cognitive) or your behaviors (actions) but in your state of being.
All things change when you do (or at least your perception of these things).
Start surrendering by asking yourself:
- What am I fighting for?
- Why do I show up each day?
- Who am I being now?
- Who do I desire to be?
- What do I need to let go of?
- And if I loved myself truly and deeply, what would I do next?
Listen to yourself and your own wisdom, not the voices of others. Although they are trying to help, you have all of your own answers.
Once you surrender into yourself, you’ll see, hear, and taste the underlying truth that always existed and was just waiting for you to slow down and notice it.
Step 2: Liberation
The most vulnerable time for a new flame is just after it is lit. As soon as you’ve reached clarity, you’ll meet doubt. Doubt is a cousin of fear, riddled with insecurity, and it dresses itself up as being helpful.
Negative introspection damages the soul. That doesn’t mean destroy it; it will only fight back harder. It means befriend it. The negative contains valuable insights into ourselves and allows us to see the infinity of our interior, the darkness and the light. Practice these three things:
- Mental Liberation: Change the mental loop. Rewire the brain. When fear speaks and negativity arises, respond with “not useful” or “thank you for sharing.” Of course, some fears are useful and help to keep us safe. But be able to distinguish a true physical or emotional threat from a mental one. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Write it all down. Face every fear. Then write why each fear is not real and how you will overcome and/or befriend it.
- Emotional Liberation: As you make space for this new dream, leap of faith, or life transition ahead, you’ll need to let go of things that are no longer serving you. Emotionally, that may look like relationshifts (shifting the dynamics of relationships, whether they’re with friends, family, or romantic). It may also take the form of releasing yourself from unnecessary and unhealthy commitments you’ve made. Take stock. Get free.
- Spiritual Liberation: Whether you believe in a spirit or not, there is an undeniable energy that connects us all. People talk a lot about extrinsic technology as this great power, but we completely forget about our intrinsic technology; the miracle we are. As you navigate your next steps, be in conversation with your higher self, your source, your God. Ask for guidance, protection, and support.
Step 3: Preparation
“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” —Dwight D. Eisenhower
When preparing for the unknown, it’s impossible to know what to expect. In my opinion, the most important life skills to nurture—which will help in any and all situations—are the abilities to adapt, learn, and be “game.”
1. Adapt: Being able to adapt means being in unfamiliar—oftentimes uncomfortable—situations and adjusting your disposition to meet the challenge in front of you. With the speed of technology, many have coined this time period the “Adaptive Age.” In the Adaptive Age, this life skill isn’t a “nice to have,” it’s a “need to have.” One note: being adaptive is not the same thing as being reactive. It’s a combination of analysis, intuition, and action. Remember that what worked in one place may not work in another. Be willing to let go of what you think you know, let go of your expectations, and go with the flow. It will be much more enjoyable of a journey if you do!
2. Grow: Be willing to see challenges or “weaknesses” as opportunities for growth. Be humble, coachable, and willing to learn. The commonality between every successful person I’ve met, from world travelers to CEOs, has been their passion for growth. When you realize the highs and lows of life are all interconnected, you’ll see how much you have to gain from what may look like a setback. Trust that when you come out of the storm, you will be a better person than when you went in.
3. Be Game: People underestimate the value of enthusiasm. Being “game” is enthusiasm combined with a willingness to try something new. How “game” you are will of course be affected by others and what’s important to you (e.g., your family, your kids, your community, and your career path). Know yourself and your values. Also, keep in mind that when opportunity knocks, it’s often not at a convenient time. So when you get a call like I did and they ask, “How soon can you be on a plane to Hong Kong?” Think about what your answer will be: “Tomorrow,” “Two weeks,” or “Two months.” Dream-makers are risk takers. Be courageous with your intuition. You’ll know what’s right for you.
Thich Nhat Hanh wisely said, “No mud, no lotus.” If you know the legend of the lotus, they are flowers that grow in darkness, in the murk, and the mud and somehow miraculously rise above the surface of the water, fresh, pure, clean, and luminous. The lotus is a symbol of rebirth and transformation. But, without the mud, there is no lotus.
Wherever your journey takes you, there will most certainly be some mud along the way. Don’t let that stop you from pursuing your dreams, answering your callings, and trusting yourself in taking that next big leap of faith. My sense is you will be rewarded. And, if nothing else, you will certainly learn something new.
Kelsey “Lotus” Wong is an experience designer, community orchestrator, and culture consultant. With a passionate curiosity for people, Kelsey consults with organizations worldwide to design emotionally intelligent workplaces with humanity at the center. Kelsey is in her happy place when she’s writing, traveling, or floating in the sea. Follow Kelsey’s journey on her blog .