On this early January day, I am hiking in the juniper-dotted hills near the southern reach of the John Day Formation. Here, sandy desert soil intermingles with patches of red clay and winter moisture transforms otherwise dry dusty summer earth into a wet sticky mess of gumbo. I have to take care where I step—so I hop from basalt stones to tufts of prairie grass to avoid the mud. This is minimally effective and a thick sludge begins to accumulate on underside of my hiking boots. It squeezes around the sides of my soles, widening the tread and weighing down each step. I am soon walking a few inches above the earth, supported by a thick paste of clay.
As I walk through life, I cannot avoid collecting a little mud along the way. It does not completely impede my progress, but it slows me down and may cause me to slip. Even so, I can enjoy the journey. On this trek, I observe signs of wildlife—their tracks sharply visible in the clay. Impressions of deer, bobcat, birds and rodents pepper the ground. Semi-precious rocks emerge in the soil, coaxed from subterranean cracks onto the surface by seasonal frost heave. The ground is flecked with shards of white and blue agate, red and yellow jasper, and multi-colored petrified wood.
I experience geological euphoria and notice I can slog about, carrying the weight of accumulated clay karma and still be mindfully, joyfully, observant of my surroundings. But every once in awhile, I have to slow down and remove the sludge or it totally weighs down my ‘soul’ (pun intended).
Meditation offers us the opportunity to sit down, remove our shoes, and scrape the accumulated sludge from our mind. It is a very organic, although messy, process. We have to be patient because very fine particles get lodged deep into the crevices of our psyche. Rather than digging them out, I find a good soaking will loosen even the most stubbornly elusive mud.
The art and science of meditation suggests we do not have to go anywhere to find a ‘solution’ for our problems. The water of restful awareness is a universal solvent—naturally, effortlessly, dissolving hidden muck.