Without mud, you cannot have a lotus flower. Without suffering, you have no ways in order to learn how to be understanding and compassionate, Happiness is the lotus flower, and the suffering is the mud. So the practice is how to make use of the suffering, make use of the mud, to create the flower, the happiness, and this is possible.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

We can’t run away from all of our suffering, if we do we will be running forever and we will fail to find anything resembling true happiness. The 'no mud no lotus' mantra is a way to recognise that great things come from poor starts, and with all bad things come the opportunity to grow greater things.  

If we always look at the negatives of every situation, which can become an extremely unhealthy habit, we will fail to recognise what great things could possibly come. Without the mud the beautiful lotus flower could not be possible; just like without mistakes and failures we will struggle to find meaning and fulfilment. Great things are born out of poverty and sorrow and being stuck in the idea that we have no hope is one of life’s greatest tragedies. Out of mud, out of nothing, each moment can sprout and grow into something majestic and beautiful.

More often than not we find refuge in our consumption. When we feel pain and discomfort we turn to the television, social media, alcohol, drugs and relationships for salvation but these things only provide temporary relief and sooner or later the pain and discomfort return. 'No mud no lotus' is a symbol that transformation is very possible, that each and every one of us has the capacity to turn our pain and discomfort, our mud, into happiness, our lotus flower. The question is how?

How do we transform our suffering into happiness? It starts with knowing that this is in fact possible. The 'no mud no lotus' mantra is a simple reminder that this is well within our reach. Secondly it is about recognising your mud - what is your suffering? And we all have it, it might just be covered up in something else that does a good job at masking it. But once we take the time to stop running, relax and reflect, we will see it.

I would go out drinking most weekends and spend my time with girls. This may seem normal but for me, and a lot of other people, it was a disguise covering up my boredom and loneliness. My suffering was my boredom and my loneliness and more importantly my inability to enjoy time by myself without running after something else to continually cover it up. Solitude allowed me to identify this; three months away from drinking and sex uncovered how it really felt to be bored and lonely. I didn’t like the feeling so I would find ways to never have to feel it again, hence the going out every weekend and filling my time with people that were toxic. This seemed the logical choice - if you don’t like the way you feel  then find ways to keep on avoiding it - but this is a merry go round and around and around you go.

Recognising my suffering and not running away and covering it up in something else, television, phone, computer, girls, alcohol, false friends, allowed me to dive deep in that mud – face first. The longer I sat bored and lonely with no option but to face it, the more the intensity started to dull.

To consume in order to cover up our suffering does not work. We need a spiritual practice to go deep into our suffering, In order to come home to ourselves without fear of encountering the suffering, we must have a practice of mindfulness and concentration.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

I see now that all the answers are found at home. When we can come home to ourselves, softly and peacefully, we will find our mud and give our lotus flowers a chance to grow.

Don’t fall too deep into your sufferings, sometimes it is the over-thinking and constant playing in our minds that contributes more damage than the actual event. When you can see that every event, no matter how bad it seems, is also an opportunity we can never stay drowned in mourning. You just have to think, “Here is my mud and now I can grow a lotus flower." Let go and move forward with life. 'No mud no lotus' is also a mantra for positivity, of not getting caught up in negative thoughts that will only cause more suffering, we have to move forward and transform that same suffering into long lasting happiness.  


Evan is the co-founder and director of The Happiness Compass. He is an author of two books, a writer, speaker and activist passionate about planting seeds for thought and discussion.