Handling Mud

Handling Mud

Mud by David Kessler
Mud by David Kessler

Spiritual practices raise our light but also move the shadows, exposing mud. When we see muddy situations coming up in our experience, we have a few choices.

1) allow the mud to arise to be seen
2) wash your hands of the mud and exit
3) jump into the mud and roll in it

1) allow the mud to arise to be seen
In this instance, we recognize our own reactivity and sit with it, allow it to rise up and be processed. We may need to separate our reactivity from the actual events, such as when we’re responding to what’s happening to another. What’s the part that’s happening and what’s our response? For example, a teacher chides another student and we find this distressing. Our empathy may create a cognitive bias where we give disproportionate weight to a single example.

We may also recognize mud arising in others. We can point it out to them, but remember that mud often comes with shadow so they may not yet see it in themselves and can react to your observance. Careful you’re not projecting here, as we’ll often blame others for our own reactivity.

If it’s a teacher, there should be a way of bringing it up with them that doesn’t meet with resistance. But again, careful with projection. That’s very common in spiritual circles.

2) wash your hands of the mud and exit
In this case, we’re seeing a drama developing around another. We may get splashed with the mud but if we recognize the source, we can step away.

This is also a good option if a teacher is acting inappropriately or members of a group are trying to get you involved to justify their own drama.

Careful not to the throw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s not uncommon for people to discard a valid teaching or techniques, for example, because of issues in a community. Take what’s good and leave the rest.

3) jump into the mud and roll in it
While you may think this is silly, it’s surprisingly common to see events in groups stirring up peoples mud. Rather than going to #1 or 2, they jump into it and raise a fuss. They share the drama (not just the facts), try to get others on board, attack those who don’t engage, and literally throw mud around energetically. It has surprised me how much charge we can share in an email.

Events are used to justify acting out, venting, and so forth. Then we add yet another layer to our drama, reinforcing it. When we finally begin to see through this, it can be a rude awakening. But then we can change the tide and be resolving rather than reinforcing.

Many friendships end when we outgrow some of this and no longer buy into the dramas. People want company in their stories. It helps us feel right and supported, even if it’s unhealthy. But ask yourself if you’re enabling and reinforcing or helping heal. (I won’t even touch family dynamics here.)

“Most of human suffering is caused… by the quality—or lack of quality—of our narrative and the emotions and reactions that it produces.”
– Adyashanti, Vol. 68, 2018

Others who have been splashed have the same choices: to help resolve or to step into the drama. Many have the habit of automatically engaging the drama because they have healing to do. Perhaps they feel this is compassion or support. But what’s driving the bus? Does fanning the flames put out the fire? When you see a drama unfolding, consider what choice you’re making or have made.

Do you email or call everyone, sharing the drama, gathering details and support for the story? Do you make lists of your grievances? Or do you offer to be present for the person, neutral to the drama?

Difficult situations arising are a powerful opportunity for healing. They don’t come up in our experience as difficult unless there’s something to be seen in us. If you resist that seeing, you’ll have the experience again later, through another person or group.

When we step into it, we entangle ourselves in the karma playing out. If we sow doubt for others on a valid spiritual path, we can create difficult karma for our own journey.

Situations are rarely what they seem on the surface, especially with purification. Heavy purification can create wild experiences and circumstances. But these are symptoms of healing, not problems. If we allow them to complete, they’ll resolve. If we engage the drama instead, we solidify and perpetuate them.

Yes, teachers too often act out on their students, but much more common is students acting out on teachers. Spiritual orgs can be karma machines, and it’s not uncommon for people to make crazy choices when they’re purifying. Anything to avoid seeing.

If a teacher fumbles a bit or just acts like a human, students with unrealistic expectations can judge them harshly.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi spoke of the passion of students, showing up as both love and hate.

You may find the Student Guidelines of the Association for Spiritual Integrity a useful reflection.

When you face a drama, there are important questions to consider. Whose problem is it? Is the mud your shadow? Is it someone else’s? Is it your business at all? Are you enabling it, staying neutral, or helping to resolve it? Reacting and venting is drama, not resolution. If you’re engaging the drama of someone else’s karma, you can increase it and take that on. That’s not helpful to anyone.

Learning your energy dynamics takes time and life experience. Some things are hard to see. But as we change our reactive habits and heal, our quality of life improves and we support those around us rather than dragging them down.

Our society doesn’t have a lot of exemplars for us to follow. Most of us are a work in progress. Yet we’re moving towards wholeness beyond the drama.
Happy trails.

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  1. I’ll add that energy dynamics may be clearer to the teacher than yourself. Just as heavy purification can be crazy-making, addressing that directly can seem odd or uncomfortable. I’ve seen people leave teachers over misunderstanding such events.

    The teacher should be willing to explain later, and we should be open to this.

    That said, if we’re not comfortable with a teachers style, that may not be a good home for us. Don’t stay for the social connections.

    1. Hi Lynette
      Just remember that this is about emotions and reactivity. Mind’s involvement is in telling story’s to explain things away. Being conscious and noticing how we’re reactive is what moves us to #1 or 2. Not thinking about it. 🙂

  2. Rick Talcott

    My own experience is that there is often a mixture of 1 & 2. I sometimes have a tendency to engage with someone lost in reenacting their own (often childhood) dramas. The best solution I found to that so far, is to see what’s playing out with them and then take a look at what in me pushed me to make the connection from my side.

    Once I can see why I got hooked in, it’s not as difficult to wash my hands and walk away from my side of things. At first, that felt cold and heartless to leave them in their own mud, but for me that’s often the only solution that works. I’m not often able to contribute to a joint solution. Again, most likely a result of bonding with people who are more interested in the mud bath than in changing the situation.

    1. Hi Rick
      Excellent observations. And yes, we all have trigger points. And there can be deep memes like being “supportive” or the “rescuer” or “caretaker.” We call it empathy but it’s often driven by our own unresolved stuff.

      With awareness and practice, we can distinguish between ourselves and our stories and dramas. Then we can do the same with others. But so often, our entanglements are in shadow so not so easily seen (felt). But with noticing, we’ll see the pattern and draw closer to getting at what needs resolving.

      Yes, unfortunately people will be angry with us for not going along with their drama. They can be inclined to attack us personally. But if we recognize that’s the old trauma talking and it’s not really personal, we can wash up much more quickly.

      Reminds me of the analogy. We’re offered a castle but we’re attached to our old familiar mud hut. We feel safe in our suffering. It takes courage to step out of it.

      1. To be clear to readers, empathy and compassion are very much real. However, those are not available to us unless we have an open heart. For most, we have a defended heart and these are just labels we give to how we’re entangled. Like a desire to control or ‘feel better than’ we call being compassionate.

        Sounds harsh, but this becomes clear as we move out of our mud.

        1. I can use myself as an example.

          I have a dharma of service. Early on, some abused that and I learned to create healthy boundaries and to exit unhealthy associations. But later, I realized there were deeper dynamics in play that tainted the service. Like service to feel good about myself or feel right. Gradually, as I healed, what I offered got cleaner.

          It takes time, willingness, and experiences to unearth where we’re entangled and work through them. Helpful friends who are empathic may help us see, but still only when we can.

      2. Lynette

        Thanks to Rick’s sharing. Recently, I was able to discern from my friend’s predicament to be similar to my own. So the emotions of frustration, tension, upset came up and I can feel my body tightening up. She wants me to help her with her predicament, but I feel that I need to step away and solve my own predicament. I was wondering whether the universe is telling me something. I feel like the old drama has not been resolved and I need to resolve it. I have to let the emotions go and look at the predicament with a different set of eyes without the negative emotions associated with it. I don’t know if this is what you mean in resolving, healing, letting go. Thanks D.

        1. Yes, it’s easier to be helpful when we’ve got related experience but helpful if we’re not bringing our stuff to the table. You don’t want to be mutually reinforcing.

          Right – when the memory becomes neutral, we know we’ve resolved the charges around it. Deeper things may surface later if its a big one, but that round is complete, at least.

  3. Clarice Davidson

    Sometimes teachers can be encouraging cult like behavior. This can become quite muddy too. Some of these qualities are practices that encourage obsessively writing of negative thought patterns. A new language emerged that is convoluted claiming that subjective thinking to be in fact scientific. With a lot of repetition of strange beliefs systems the vunerable can be brainwashed. This has been my experience with [teacher]… [His] motto was truth above all else. I think his students felt he wasn’t a good enough representative of that statement. [snip]

    1. Hi Clarice
      I can appreciate you’re upset with the teacher but I have no desire to invite the drama here. Those circumstances and some in another group were what led to this article. I would agree that some odd karma played out but the group made a much bigger drama of it than the original events. The original events have concluded but others have jumped into it and added their own unresolved trauma. That wants to keep the drama going even though it’s now just mud driving the bus.

      Do you see how you’re now reframing everything from this new place of upset? It didn’t happen to you but you’ve made it yours and judge everything from there. We’ve all been there. That’s the play of identification. The way to heal when we’re reacting is to stop blaming and look at ourselves and try and shift to #1 or 2 and get out of the mud. It doesn’t help anyone to throw it around. I can feel it in your emails.

      It may not make sense to the logical mind but many events are arising to help us find resolution. If we recognize what is arising in us and allow it to heal, it will complete. If we don’t, we’ve just reinforced it and added to our suffering.

      It’s not about what happened. That’s just appearances. It’s about how we respond. If we can learn just this, the world will transform quite rapidly.

  4. Way Miller

    Thank thee. Witnessed this unfold as of late and it brought up a good bit of really deep embedded darker stuff for healing here. Needless to say it wasn’t the “ideal” way. But is there really an “ideal” way for darker content to surface? That’s only somewhat rhetorical. I saw plenty of positions and belief systems come up for questioning here. The belief in safety in numbers, multiple defensive and safety features referential to content and form, to the experiential reality and profundity of certain Nondual teachings and techniques being questioned seemingly due to a “lack” in validation sought or no longer being met from external conditions. Of course all this content was there prior and merely allowed to be exposed by the seeming current circumstance. By Grace things were in place allowing the experience to mostly be with what was arising here, though wishful and critical thinking was plentiful. It seems positions of assurance, safety, and comfort when questioned trigger “flight/fight” confusion where in higher reality only Love and forgiveness move back to freedom and peace. Thanks again.

  5. K

    Thank you for this timely post. Can you please define shadow for me. I have a sense of it but always feel I don’t a full intuitive grasp of what that means. Meriam gives one definition as a “source of gloom or unhappiness” but I think that is not it fully. Is shadow the negative aspect of a positive quality? For e.g. one of my parents did a lot for me but that set up a sense of obligation. I have tried to understand the concept of shadow for a long time. Thank you

    1. Oops, sorry, K. My reply dropped into the void…

      Shadow is what obscures clear seeing. Repressed trauma and karma can come with a shadow making them unclear to us. We may notice symptoms but are unclear on the source, for example. Yet they may be be obvious to those around us. For example, we can have a hair-trigger temper. We may have a story about it, like blaming our parent. But the actual source is in us, even if we learned the style from another.

      The dictionary definition is an emotional shadow or emotion that brings darkness. These can be related.

      The sense of obligation may be driven by guilt or co-dependency, for example. That is a form of emotional charge. But unless we can feel into it, it’s hard to resolve. If we can’t see it, it’s in shadow for us, even if it’s obvious for others.

      Note that we’re talking emotions here. Shadow is unfelt. “Shadow” is a visual word that may work poorly for you if you’re more somatic, etc. Also, it’s not about understanding with the mind but experiencing.

  6. Clarice Davidson

    When a teacher has been found to be lacking integrity all the students need to reevaluate what has been taking place. The students should not be intimitated or accused of participating in the drama. Purification cannot excuse a teacher from poor behavior. The teacher may need to step away from the practice at least for a time.

    1. Hi Clarice
      Perception is key here. Are they lacking in integrity or are you perceiving a disconnect in what you’d consider appropriate behaviour? From here, they experience themselves as in integrity but have failed to relate to how events are being perceived by others, including those in the middle of it.

      In other words, they can act in integrity on their terms but be off-base to others.

      Not trying to defend them here, just trying to bring perspective. A cosmic perspective can be pretty odd in day-today terms. And yet, a teacher has to be able to communicate with students on their level. There’s also an issue with mixing personal with professional.

      Agreed, purification doesn’t excuse poor behaviour. It can happen, but amends should follow. And ditto, you can’t just blame students purification for their perception of bad behavior. If it’s arisen around the teacher, then the teacher has some karma in play.

      Just remember the basic principle – what you put your attention on grows stronger. If you want this to end, stop feeding it with your attention. Let nature restore balance. To solve a problem, the first question to ask – is this my problem? If not, trying to fix it will just stir the mud.

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