The lotus flower, a strong yet delicate flower, is the perfect analogy for our spiritual growth as human beings. This beautiful flower rises out of the muddy pond symbolizing that regardless of our external environment or circumstances we all have the potential for incredible growth and beauty.
The image of the lotus flower is held sacred in many of the world's religions and cultures. With its root in the mud, the lotus rises through the murky water to blossom clean and bright, symbolizing to the Buddhist purity, resurrection and the enlightened being who emerges from the chaos and illusion of the world.
In the Greek and Roman Christian Churches, the Archangel Gabriel is portrayed holding a spray of water lilies in every picture of the Annunciation, when he appears to the mother of Jesus. In Egyptian mythology, the lotus was associated with the sun, because it blooms by day and closes by night. To Native Americans, who found all parts of the flower edible, the flower symbolized the sun's power to transform energy into food.
In yogic lore, the lotus is a metaphor for how past experiences can be used for fertile soil for blooming into a more awakened soul. According to Sharon Gannon, the founder of Jivamukti Yoga, "We can all become people like Martin Luther King Jr., and embody that awakened state of spiritual activation and send compassion into the world."
Life for the lotus begins with the roots growing deep in the mud at the bottom of the pond. There is a density and heaviness, just like our material or physical world. This is where spirituality begins with the physical or material world. It is here that we learn our proper lessons that life wishes to teach us. It is here that our relationships come into play and we learn to "ground ourselves" by improving our interactions with others. In our yoga practice this is represented in our standing poses, hip openers, floor work and in the act of feeling our feet touching the earth. It is the grounding nature of our practice that relates to how we feel about the world in which we live and then how that energy is expressed back into the body. It is here that we create stability by aligning our bones, and the recognition of what is not aligned on all planes of existence. It is here that we use our physical practice to help us find our own "muck." While it might be tempting to skip this stage it is essential before we move upwards.
"We all have the potential for incredible growth and beauty."
As we mature as human beings and have the opportunity to work through our circumstances, it is then that we can begin to vibrate at a higher level than the physical body and symbolically this is the water where the stem reaches towards the light above. In this place in our practice, we are moving towards more subtle aspects. Maty Eratzy, founder of Yoga Works in Southern California and a yoga teacher for over 20 years can do really difficult poses. Maty mentored many well know yoga teachers such as Seane Corn, Shiva Rea, Rod Stryker and Kathryn Budig. She says that in yoga we advance from the gross to the subtle. She claims that doing more poses is not necessarily better and this might even become a distraction, leading to attachment of the advanced poses.
So we move up and out of the mud by feeling more and becoming more aware of the smaller subtleties of our practice. For example, during savasana, the ability to feel your eyelashes gently interlacing is so delicate that unless a student is very still and conscious, then this would be impossible. Another example of cultivating the subtle is when we allow ourselves to feel places of deeper tension in the body. Or moving from the outside in. The first step in releasing tension is to become aware of it, and then stay present and feel it. The "feeling" of the tension or negativity of course takes courage and that is why it is considered a higher level of spiritual maturity.
Finally, the flower opens above the water's surface, basking in the light and freedom of the open air. This is our spiritual journey. To begin with the physical, and then the mental, and at last the spiritual. It is here you come to know ease and spiritual truth, the least dense of these three realms.
Yoga and Meditation disciplines are tools to help us ground ourselves, grow through the mud of the mind and reach our arms upwards towards the heavens, finding our true inner nature. May we can all be like the lotus flower and rise above our challenges and bloom.
Photo credit: tdlucas5000 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)