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Letting the Mud Settle

Letting the Mud Settle

It rained the other day, so I couldn’t resist pulling on my boots and whistling the dogs down to the river to check out the fall colors. Everything was drippy and beautiful. One must, in that situation, simply squat down and take it all in.

At my feet, the shallow water was brown and stirred-up from the downpour. Mud soup.

I closed my eyes and inhaled the clean air. Deep in my lungs I think it washed me out too.


When I opened my eyes, I noticed a little more was visible in the river puddle. I could make out the fuzzy outline of leaves and a layer of blurred stones below them.

Eyes closed again, opening my senses, I could hear the call of Kingfishers swooping for fish and bugs. Further away the call and response of crows. The longer I squatted with eyes closed, the more I could detect- even the lone cry of a hawk acres away.

Looking down once more, aha!, the puddle had cleared. There at the bottom in high resolution were crimson, chocolate, and oker-colored leaves draped over glistening shale.

A whole new world was revealed beneath the glassy, clear surface. Little fish darting. Detritus dwellers. Even tiny abandoned snail shells.

I had to smile. Once again I had experienced the gift of stillness- CLARITY.

I keep a reminder of this on my desk  (and I give one to each of my meditation students)- a canning jar full of muddy river water.

The jar represents the Mind.

When we shake it up, it gets cloudy. Worried thoughts, fear, anxiety, striving, judgement, greed, busy-ness… are just a few of the ways we stir up our mind.

It is amazing how much of our day is spent trying to make wise decisions with unclear vision.

And….. what happens when we let the jar of agitated water sit for awhile? 

Just like the river puddle, all on its own… when we pause, connect with our senses, and wait…  the mud settles. Have you experienced this? You might be wrestling with a question or facing a difficult conversation or trying to come up with a creative idea. The more you splash around thinking and worrying… the more agitated the mind and the further you get from clarity.

But if, instead, you take a walk in nature, sit and observe the breath, stretch the body  (all activities that bring us back to the present), voila! a light goes off and you see things clearly. And when you see clearly, you can respond wisely, instead of reacting from the “stirred-up place”.

There is a Zen saying, “Who can sit til the mud settles?”

Meditation ( paying attention in a particular way:  on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally)  allows our Mind to return to its natural state.

We do not have to add or fix anything… we simply rest, observe the breathe and let the mind settle on its own.  The gift of Pausing is a kind of  “homecoming”.

The mind, in its natural state, is always calm, clear, and undisturbed.  And, like the puddle or jar of river water… there are treasures waiting when the mud settles.

So, slow down and take a look for yourself.  Wisdom, clear-seeing, and insight lay just under the surface of a busy mind.







4 responses to “Letting the Mud Settle”

  1. Leenie

    Of course, I could hear your voice saying all of this, Friend. ;D Naturally, I still have my jar. All summer it sat on my little chair-side table on our deck and was a companion during my dawn and dusk reflections and awe before the little mountains that surround us. Here’s a funny, quirky jar experience you might enjoy: I never really shook my jar up. I always thought, “Why disturb it? It’s so clear and settled. Just sit by it and learn. Be still.” When I am home I am almost always in this state of stillness even if I am moving so… But last month as the season began to turn and the trees on the mountains brighten, I noticed that a thin, green film had begun to form on top of the settled mud in my jar. Something in there was photosynthesizing. I studied it for days, getting out the magnifying glass, watching, learning. Finally I gave it a shake. It was more difficult to break up the little “mat of green life” forming but I finally got a mud shake with little flecks of green/brown mixed in. It reminded me that the shaking and stirring up of the mud are important, too. In my herbal preparations I know that shaking things up energizes and distributes the healing properties throughout the solvent. It exposes all the surfaces and more active principles are released and made available. So, I’ve learned that shaking things up is as important as allowing them to settle. All shaking and no settling is not good, but neither is all settling and no shaking. It’s all part of the cycle that continually renews us.

  2. mike adams

    Good morning Beth
    I am facilitating a meditation on Thursday evening and will have several young children there and had planned to use the muddy water in a jar meditation. Hope you don’t mind if i use some of your writing as a guide for them. Thank you for this, it is beautiful.
    In gratitude

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