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Standing in the Mud

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

I had a loose but unshakable grip on Vic's handlebars as we descended a washed-out old road to the lead mine. Some soccer ball sized boulders loose on the hill below us gave my stomach some butterflies but the bike confidently and sure footedly found her line and rolled down the hill. A tall lanky old poplar tree stretched to the sky from the dirty looking sand atop a knoll where I decided to do zazen.

I carefully took off my boots and socks and sat on the outer shell of my motorcycle jacket. I drew a deep breath in and very, very slowly let it out as the hum of late summer seemed to get louder and louder. The pond below glowed like a muddy mirror reflecting the puffy clouds and hazy blue sky.

Breathing in deeply again and breathing out so slowly it was like I forgot to breath at one point. As the cacophony grew, my body settled and relaxed as much it could on the firm hill near the mine. My mind began to dig deeper and deeper into the moment, the sounds of cicadas humming and crickets chiming and the far off highway buzzing with 18 wheelers hauling life to so many who have forgotten it. Just sitting, the air was sweet with a little boggy flavor.

After zazen, The Heart Sutra starting coming up so I put my palms together to tell all the frogs and birds, fishes and waterbugs it was beginning. "Maka Hanya Haramita Shingyo" drawing out the "oooooooo" as if I were the Ino at shesshin and all the beings were going to chant with me. It felt like they did. That sutra takes my breath. I don't know where it goes yet. I'm pretty sure it's beautiful.

I practiced kinhin down to the water and walked along the shore. Sometimes my feet, body and mind actually are in samadhi when I practice kinhin and this was one of those times. I noticed the grasses that grew in the water and along the shore in the firm sand. Also someone had driven their truck right next to the water and left two tracks. I noticed the lily pads and the beautiful white flowers out on the glassy surface. I think I confused these with lotus flowers. They're water lilies my girlfriend said.

I've been wanting to make a nice photo of one of these for a long time. So I rolled up my riding jeans with "kevlar" fabric to protect against road rash and looked into the dark water to see how mucky the bottom was. It was like a metaphor for practice. We look but what we'll actually be standing in is unknown and maybe even gross and slimy. We sit zazen and walk kinhin anyway.

I stepped in and it was very slimy, like six inches of slime. My mind imagined all the leeches and worms trying to burrow into my skin. I breathed in the air from the surface of the water filling my lungs all the way up. I took another step, breathing out slowly, slowly and another and another. Like practice, just staying with it, vowing to stay with it, with this, with the unknown. Not turning and running when I get scared or it is difficult.

I got to a point where my jeans rolled above my knees were about to get wet. It would have been a pretty cold ride home if that happend. I took a photo with my phone but I wasn't there yet. I thought, I can't go back to the shore and take my jeans off and do this again can I? I had to do it. It's my vow to not turn away. It felt like practice.

The long slim and slimy lily pad stems caught between my toes like a snare and tried to pull my feet down as I began to walk back. I was creeped out even more, I stopped to remove them and continued on, but now with a bit of jump in my step desperate to get out. I took off my jeans and went back in the water. This time wasn't as bad, stepping in and fully feeling the silty, slimy, muddy bottom of Cooks Pond squeeze between my toes.

I went past the spot where I turned around on the first try. The muck got a little deeper but I was less creeped out. I stood there in front of the water lily bloom and felt the bottoms of my feet. I felt the mud, I breathed in the feeling and the mystery and slowly, slowly, slowly let it out, gave it all back. I'm also a mystery. Maybe the mud is afraid to feel my feet too. Together we just let the moments pass by.

Once a long time ago, there were many people who toiled in this spot mining for lead and here I am standing in the mud in my underwear and there it is, pure gold.

"May we exist in muddy water with the purity of a lotus" and a water lily.

Standing in the mud.

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