No Mud, No Lotus: A Cure for the Longest Case of the Blahs
About 3,456 days ago, in April, I read a New York Times article about languishing. The piece described the emotion thusly:
“Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.”
Raise your hand if you can relate. <insert hand raising emoji>
As we navigate the world’s longest rut, there are certainly days that we feel at peace or joyful or in which we have a great time. But boy the in between days are brutal. Also, sweet merciful Baby King Cake Jesus in the Manger, why oh why are there so many in between days? Living in limbo is weird and uncomfortable.
Then of course there’s the guilt. There are people suffering from deep depression, grief, loss and physical illness. The pandemic, coupled with Hurricane Ida is, for many, a breaking point. Those of us lucky enough to have mental and physical health, gainful employment, housing and food have no business feeling sorry for ourselves, right? Giving and volunteering, especially to people in Louisiana affected by Hurricane Ida, helps, but there is a bottomless pit of need. Not just in Louisiana, of course, but all over the world. To think too much about it is to fall into not only a state of emptiness, but also despair. But burying our heads in the putrid garbage pile on the curb that may or may not ever get picked up by the city also is not an option. Not that anyone would want to do that, because ew. My apologies for the revolting mental image. I’m in a dark place, y’all. But I’m the only one who can dig myself out of it.
While I can’t fix the problems of the world, I can do my part by, again, donating to those in need and lending a hand. After that, it’s about filling my own cup in pandemic safe and responsible ways. The article on languishing says that the antidote to stagnation is flow. As a yoga and meditation practitioner, I’m familiar with the concept of flow. But even if you don’t engage in those practices, you’ve likely experienced flow. In the piece, flow is described as “… that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away.” If you’ve ever gotten so engaged in an activity that you’ve lost a sense of time, that’s flow. (Unless the activity is doomscrolling on the internet or social media. That’s not flow and it’s bad for us, so stop it, OK?)
Personally, flow happens for me when I’m writing, reading, making photos or sketches, coloring, cooking or taking a long walk. Small, bite-sized activities and challenges are recommended in times like these, because one of the symptoms of languishing is lack of concentration. So, instead of setting a goal to write a novel or even a short story, maybe instead think about completing a crossword puzzle. Rather than vowing to compete in an Iron Man race, plan to take a bike ride in a new neighborhood. Set yourself up for success in baby steps.
For example, this weekend, I’m determined to finally cross kayaking off my list of things I want to try. After several delays and overly complicated thinking, instead of trying to plan a kayaking trip in the mountains, we are planning to go to City Park, rent kayaks and go out on the water for an hour or two. It will be a small adventure to break up the monotony and won’t take up much brain space in planning and logistics. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, my Plan B is to do a new workout video. Both are small, manageable and achievable and will give me a baby adrenaline rush.
So, like everyone else — and despite my best efforts — I have caution fatigue, am mentally weary from hurricane prep, evacuation, and a return to clean up and fixing things, as well as bracing for the next possible hurricane and, I’m in a fairly consistent state of sorrow for those who are deeply suffering in South Louisiana and the world at large which makes a person, well, just tired. Little adventures are about as much as I can muster right about now and I feel lucky to be able to engage in such frivolous activities. But as the saying goes, we can’t fill a cup from an empty jug. We must find joy and consume our version of soul food if we are to not just merely survive, but to thrive. As the Buddhist saying goes, no mud, no lotus. In his book by the same name, Buddhist author and teacher Thich Nhat Hahn writes, “When we know how to suffer, we suffer much, much less.” He shares that the secret to happiness is to acknowledge and transform suffering, not to run away from it. We can acknowledge suffering and work toward helping others, while at the same time embracing and cultivating joy. If there is one thing New Orleanians are pro-level at it is retaining their joie de vivre amid suffering and crises. We use the discomfort of languishing to fuel ourselves into a state of flow. Perhaps that’s the key, no? When we’ve come to realize that any day could be our last, whether it’s due to illness, accident or natural disaster, we are more apt to cherish and celebrate every moment.