“No mud, no lotus.” – Thich Nhat Hahn
In a circle of people, sitting on chairs in a breezy summer evening, the 4-session “Embrace your life through Writing” began. My double door opened out on a leafy, lush yard. There were distant sounds, birds chirping, the slight whir of a ceiling fan. People chatted with each other until I began the session. This is a fertile space, ripe with potential, a place to share, to listen and to emerge with some new angle on life’s mysteries.
I harness this phenomenon of fertile space when I invite people to a group, whether a one time seasonal event or a series that goes for multiple sessions, like the upcoming 10-session “Tools and Tasks for the Second Half of Life” which begins in September. The beauty of a fertile group space is that, like nature, the energies ebb and flow. We respect and are safe in a sacred space of gathering. We can be confident in the reality that some greater force is at work, and we, like the tiny figures in a Chinese painting, are trudging along in our lives, grateful for the chance to sit in good company for a space while hearing the stories of others and sharing our own. And in those moments we experience the lotus that emerges from all of that mud.
Within each of us is a lot of mud, a rich mix of life experience that includes pain and suffering as well as happiness and joy. How to benefit from this mix is dependent on our ability to be awake and conscious.
Fertility is a funny word. When I was unable to conceive after trying for five years, I was called infertile. That word struck me as rather harsh and dismissive. Being called “infertile” sounded like a conviction.
Not too long after that, less than a year, our baby arrived bundled in a pink blanket. She was born in Texas and came to us at age 2 weeks. I was 41 at the time. I mulled over that pronouncement of infertility and began a journey to discover what fertility really is. In fact, I wrote a piece then called “Fertility” because, in fact, I felt more fertile than ever before.
Fertile space is not always an easy place to be. Yet it is full of potential. Our challenge is to rise to the occasion. In order to grow, thrive and feel part of family and community, there must be love, attention to physical and emotional needs and the sense of safety and caring. A seed germinates, sets down roots and must have good soil, sunlight, water and nutrients. All of these factors together point to a phenomenon in the plant and human world I call “fertile space.”
Without “mud” and the darkness it comes from, there will be no growth, flowering or fruit. To align with natural rhythms and recognize their reality in ourselves is to gain the support of nature in our own transformation. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “No mud, no lotus.” It is easy to be mired in mud, in life’s many challenges, and lose perspective.
We must learn to recognize fertile space, sometimes create it and get out of our own way to benefit from what it offers us. Fertile space hovers within as potential. We must wake up to this and learn to listen.
The dynamic present is a fertile space. In a moment of meditation, we create a space that is fertile by closing the phone and the door. Or we can pause in a challenging moment and look out the window or focus on something right in front of us. The practice contributes to the fertile space and the possibility of living creatively. Any moment that we can become more present is a fertile space. We must be receptive to that moment and whatever it brings.
Pivot Point Group Sessions
I began to offer group sessions, “wisdom groups,” in 2009. Sometimes I provided an option to begin with an acupuncture ear needle protocol designed to calm the nervous system and cleanse the organs. This helps us calm down and become still in order to be present, absorb and digest what comes our way. The needles helped my own greater silence as I joined the circle. My heartbeat slowed and I felt the sloughing off of endless mental lists. It was as though together, as a group, we took a collective sigh into reverence.
Meditation is one way to attune to fertile space. Without the capacity for a quiet mind, there is not much chance of accessing wisdom. We will skim over the top and not really absorb what we see.
Another practice is the discipline of intention. From knowing ourselves we gain insight into where we need to focus and create intention. In a group, we have a collective intention. As the facilitator, it is my responsibility to hold the space for that intention.
Whenever I am in a group, whether hosting or participating, I am aware of the phenomenon of “fertile space.” Sometimes a conversation with a friend may have that quality, when each of us is open to listening and also sharing. There is a kind of rhythm, an almost musical quality of harmony. Often there is laughter, genuine laughter. There may even be a tear or two.
There is no script that guarantees an outcome, but group sessions can provide valuable focus to the dynamic present. We are both on our own and not on our own, a paradox. Sharing stories, perspectives, writing and insights provides potential for expansion. Fertility implies creativity. Creativity implies transformation. Sometimes it is helpful to do it together.