Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Muck Raking

Taken at the Japanese Garden in Seattle
I was muck raking yesterday.  No, really I was.  Not the gossipy, wrong speech kind of muck raking.  I had a big 3 pronged claw-like rake and I was pulling old snags (and young ones) from our pond.

The pond is ridiculously large and has been neglected for a long time.  One of our summer projects was to get out as much debris as we could while the water level of the pond was low.  But summer has morphed into fall and projects have stretched out like stale bubblegum and the rains have started.

This morning as I sat in meditation  thoughts bubbled up, some less pleasant than others .  This led the mind to snag onto thoughts about muck-raking.  As I dragged things out of the pond yesterday, the odour of all that rotting stuff was pretty pungent, (not unlike some of the thoughts that were bubbling up to the surface as I sat.)

I was reminded of a neighbour's comment when I suggested I might use some of the submerged leaves and muck on my garden beds.  As a master gardener with extensive gardening knowledge she said it might not be a good idea as the material was probably "anaerobic" (without oxygen).  I guess theory being, it might actually suffocate the soil.  Muck, lack of oxygen, I could feel my mind-pond gasping for air.  It reminded me that in this cerebral pond, instead of diving for cover and rejecting those thoughts I  categorize as unpleasant, I could simply provide some space and air, to simply let them bubble up and be.  I didn't need to do anything with them.  They could come to the surface of my mind-pond, let off their little stink and be gone (for now anyway).

After a number of days of muck-raking (down at the pond) yesterday I admired our work.  The shore, while still muddy was free from all the broken twigs and this year's fallen leaves.  Lots of the large, partially submerged branches had been pulled out so that the pond no longer looks like some crazy pot of dirty soup (at least at the south end).  The water suckers sprouting up from the alder trees were trimmed and some alders removed completely.  It was a pleasing, more orderly sight.

All this work reminded me of my own mind-pond.  It takes concerted effort to change the mental landscape.  It seems to me there are two kinds of mind-pond work.  We work with both inner and outer tributaries of the pond. We need to let those slightly stinky, submerged thoughts rise and pop like bubbles.   With this, we are injecting much needed oxygen, working with the outflow, cleaning the pond.  The there's the purification of the pond, the streaming in (or raining down) of clean mind-water, an important step that is often overlooked.  We can choose our thoughts.  We can choose to pour wholesome, helpful thoughts into our minds.  We can remind ourselves to be grateful for everything, to pour lovingkindess into ourselves to alkalize both our mind and bodies, instead of  continuing with our somewhat sour, acidic thoughts.

Both ponds, the one across the meadow and the one I carry with me are still in need of reparation.  There is still muck-raking to do, snags to snafoo, smelly stuff, prone to rot and suffocate the environment to be liberated.  So the process continues, the skillful, concerted effort of pond cleaning.

And like so many things in this life, (eating, washing the dishes) it's time to start all over again when we're done!  But we can do this muck-raking with joy and enthusiasm, knowing it is our work.  We are making this earthly environment better by our efforts.  And you will be glad that we are still at the point in our virtual life that there is no "sniff" function on blogger yet.  Now back to the muck raking


  1. And the lotus blooms in the muck... I'm thankful for your practice and the way you share it here. Great post! Grateful to be reminded we can choose, that we're not slaves to our thoughts.

  2. Yes, the lotus! Of course. This reminds me of aline in the closing verse of the meal time or transitional prayer from the OBC "As lotus blossoms above unclean water, pure and beyond the world is the mind of the trainee." Thanks for the flower, Kris!

  3. I guess it is a good reminder to always try to enjoy what we are doing at that moment even if it is unpleasant or a chore. There is much to be learned from these daily tasks. Thanks for the reminder. I will try and keep this at the forefront of my mind and see if it will help me to enjoy the more mundane things each day.

  4. There is a quote from somewhere that I read that goes something like: 'It's not what happens to us, but what we *think* about what happens to us that causes our suffering.' I have experienced this a lot lately. I find the concept of "choosing thoughts" and "pouring wholesome thoughts" into my mind interesting... I thought thoughts just happened, thoughts are just thoughts, and our choice is whether to react to them or not, to believe them or not... You have given me a lot to pond-er here, as I muck through the mud :)

  5. Teri - hello. yes, to enjoy, to find the pleasant in what we deem unpleasant. It can feel like an interesting game to do this sometimes. And sometimes we don't quite get there and that's okay too!

    Mystic - yes, it is interesting and can be confusing to put this all together. Thoughts arise, for sure. And these are the ones that are not always pleasant. And I too found it surprising to learn that it is part of our practice to say no thanks to some of these thoughts, to walk them to the door and send them on their way!

    It can be a fine line between rejecting thoughts and "choosing" more wholesome thoughts. I suspect this is what you mean. It's like seeding the mind in a way until we establish new thought habits.

  6. I had to think a little before posting . . For me . . acceptance is the key . . acceptance and even love of the muck . . otherwise I go into self-judgment and nothing moves . . it just stays "stuck". :-)

  7. I agree, Jann, accepting is essential. If we choose another thought merely to get that thought we don't like out of the way, we are using our practice to reject something.

    And yes even loving those uncomfortable thoughts. I remember at my last retreat when I talked with the teacher about a lot of fear coming to the surface, he suggested I offer comfort to the fear.

  8. I LOVE those words . . "comfort to the fear" . . that's even easier than my word acceptance. That's the area I'm dealing with, and it's seems very distant. This exchange . . particularly the word "comfort" has been such a reminder for me. I feel the vibration of words, and the word, comfort, has a much softer vibration than acceptance. Thank you!

  9. Thanks for reminding me that even the stinky parts have their place and I don't have to keep sniffing them to know they stink.

    For some reason when I read this posting, the phrase, "Don't believe everything you think," kept coming to mind...and I think I'll stick with that notion for awhile.

  10. Holly - It's one of my favourite bumper stickers "Don't believe everything you think" And a good mind cleanser to sprinkle on liberally! So thanks for that reminder.

    I once saw a car that had this bumper sticker combined with "Honk if you don't exist" My favourite combo!