In the Mud

I was thinking about the life I had built for myself, which at this point doesn’t seem very good. I thought of the following: A man grasping for justification of his
actions is like a man standing knee-deep in mud and gasping for air.

I am the man in the mud. I was trudging along at an incredibly slow and exasperating pace. I knew my goals and my aspirations and thought I was on the path. I kept myself going by thinking of old sayings like, ‘anything worth having is worth fighting for.’ So, I forced my way through the mud as it grabbed my legs, making me weary day by day.

One day, the rain was falling very hard, but it did nothing to soften the grip of the mud. I felt like I was drowning, so I was panting for air. Then, quite abruptly, I
noticed a man walking along at a good pace, coming up from behind me, but out of the mud.
As he passed, he shouted, “would you like to come up here and walk with me?” I said I wasn’t so sure, I had plans and aspirations to work for, and I wasn’t about to give them all up. He began to tell me his views on life, that we all work for the same goal, and that he had found unity with the universe. In this accomplishment, he said he had found this narrow path adjacent to the mudflow. He suggested that I could also find enlightenment and come up out of the mud. I was considering following his advice, and very nearly asked him for help to get out. He shouted again, “Here, let me give you advice. This path is much easier and safer than that mud. You only need to center yourself.” At the moment he finished the sentence, a lion jumped down from a tree and killed the man, and
began eating him. I stared in shock and dismay.

The lion finished his meal and turned to look at me. “I have been watching you for some time, man, and I know you would be good to eat. However, my belly is full, and I know you are not going to get very far by the time I am hungry again, so I will leave you for now.”

 

I trudged on, my heart racing. I had to continue. I had to get to a place that I could fulfill my potential. I lifted each foot with fervor and slammed it back into the mud, throwing myself forward. I thought about the insight the man had shared with me, and considered it a bad stroke of luck that had
gotten that man out of the thick mud onto a path of enlightenment, and then gotten him eaten by a lion.

Days went by, a couple passed me in the mud. As they went by, I asked how they had managed to get moving so quickly. They too were gasping for air, but they informed me that
sharing your dreams with a soul mate is a sure way to attain success. They work together, and so the combined effort increases their speed. They were soon out of sight and I was alone again. I began wondering
where my soul mate would be. If I could find her, then surely I could get to my goals faster.

One day, I noticed another man walking beside the mud. He was moving with stealth, as though he expected to be caught off guard by some unseen foe. By the next day, he was abreast of me on his path, so I called out. He jumped, shocked that I had noticed him. We struck up a conversation, and he told me that he
grew up in a certain faith and that he had been taught that demons lurked, trying to find unsuspecting souls to play their evil games with. I asked him how to identify one, but he said he had never seen one and had never met anyone that had. He seemed nervous and afraid, and I became uncomfortable, looking over my shoulder. He made me think that religious people are paranoid, hoping but never attaining. He had no peace. The night came and I lost sight of him, so I continued on. The next day, the sun was blazing, baking the mud into a slimy clay that I had to break with my fist ahead of me in order to make my way. I was tired and sore – a day made for complaining. I
grumbled and cursed throughout the day. As twilight settled in, I noticed a stirring, and it was the same lion again. He was feasting on the religious man. He looked at me with a chunk of flesh in his mouth and said, “you lucked out again, traveler, but know this, I will consume you one day.” I shivered.

I continued on into the oblivion, trudging slowly and methodically day after day. One after the other, people who had learned some secret to success were devoured on the path above the mud. Most of them had laughed or mocked me as they passed by. I began to think of names for the lion since he was a daily feature in my life. I ended up calling him sue. He seemed like a Sue. I don’t know why.

The days and months and years rolled by. I had a long beard and messy hair. My fingernails were filled with dried mud and I sweated a brown dirty sweat, stained by the fact that I lived in this mud. I couldn’t remember a life out of the mud. It was my life. There was nothing outside of it. I wouldn’t even dare to consider a different path. I didn’t want to be eaten.

My legs grew tired of the toil. I dragged my knuckles on the top of the mud. My back raged in furious agony. I was weary of the toil. I still hadn’t seen any results for all the effort I put out. When was I going to meet my destiny? I had so many goals to achieve, yet they seemed to maintain a distance ahead of me. All I wanted was to get out of this stinking mud. Why was the path made of mud anyway? Who in the world ever thought this would be a good idea? Shouldn’t we be born into a world that welcomes us with open arms and is set up for us to live happily, achieving whatever we want? I couldn’t find any answers, so I kept trudging.

I passed the couple a few years later. They were fighting about some ridiculous personal preferences and had stopped moving forward. I don’t think they will be a couple very much longer. What a pity, all they had to do was work together.

The lion grew old and died by the wayside. I passed his corpse one day and noticed a serpent had replaced him. I decided to name the serpent Timmy. Every time I saw him I laughed because of his name. It infuriated him. He ate a lot of people too.

Eventually, I grew too fatigued and stressed to continue. I face planted int he mud and began to sink. I didn’t have the strength to care that I was dying. What was the point of life if all it means is struggle? I sank slowly, of course, just to make it take longer.

I finally sank to the very bottom, and I happened to notice with some chagrin that the path below the mud was made of brick pavers. I chuckled as I suffocated, thinking of the irony. This terrible path had been built of brick strong enough for wheeled vehicles! And yet, here we were wasting our lives away in a great epic struggle that took us nowhere.

I chuckled as I faded.

I felt a nudge, kind of like a tug on my back. There was a huge weight of gravity, and suddenly I was above the mud again. A man in pure white clothes with gold accents stood there, holding me by my belt and lapel. I gasped and choked on mud. He waited for me to clear my airway. I finally gasped, “who are you?”

I am.

Why did you help me?

I am.

I was confused. I thought maybe he didn’t speak English, so I began to talk to myself. He stood there unmoving, letting his pure white clothes become stained brown by the mud. Eventually, he interrupted my monologue.

“I am the way, I will take you to the highest path. And I speak English.”

I was a little unnerved. This guy was a little difficult to connect with. He didn’t behave normally. But, he said he found a higher path. I figured, if I was just going to die in the mud, I might as well take the risk of getting eaten by a serpent. I followed him out of the mud and we began to cross the lower path toward the adjacent cliffs.

The serpent snuck up behind us and swallowed him whole. I cried out in anguish of soul. How could such a good person be devoured by the world’s system? Was there no justice in this place? But his sacrifice had gotten me past the danger, and I began to climb the cliff face. I was not going to let his death be wasted. I would find the higher path and finish the race. I climbed for what seemed forever. My fingers and toes bled. My eyes were filled with dirt. Every so often, a strong wind would threaten to detach me from the rocks. Rain would beat down with a crescendo of lightning and thunder. But I climbed on. I remembered his sacrifice and I would not quit. A few weeks into the climb, some kind of winged evil creatures began to assault me. Day after day their attacks perturbed my climb. For some reason I was unaware of, they couldn’t quite touch me. So, on I strove.

I made it to the top. There was fresh air and a clean flowing spring of crystal clear water. Fruit trees dropped their produce all around. The sun shone, not uncomfortably, and I felt alive for the first time since I was a child. I thought maybe I had died and this was Heaven.

After a few days of rest and feasting, I was confronted by a massive figure dressed all in red. He approached and spoke quietly, his face shrouded by a linen hood.

“Will you take up my cross and follow me?”

What a strange question. What was a cross and why did I need it? I didn’t know where he was going, either. I didn’t know what to say. As I began to mumble some kind of non-response, he pulled back his hood and spoke again.

“Will you do as I have done, and lead my sheep?”

I looked at him in shock and horror. It was the man that the serpent had devoured! His robes had been stained pure blood-red from his death. He stood before me and showed nothing but compassion in his eyes. I had to follow him. There was no other logical conclusion. I would follow him anywhere.

“The demons that attacked you on the cliff, they could not touch you because my blood is on you. I want you to succeed. I want to see you in my house at the end of your journey. Will you do as I have done?”

I fell to my knees and wept. This was the most humble man I had ever known. Something about him compelled me to sing! Could my life be forever changed? I knew what he was asking me to do. He wanted me to climb back down the cliff to the mud and fish out another suffering sycophant of the world’s ways. I considered the cost. Surely the serpent would devour me. But, I could not think of rejecting his plea. He had led me to this paradise above the mire. He had died for me.

I embraced him and gave my thanks for his love, and then began my descent back to the depths. I would drag anyone out who would follow me. I would die and it would be my gain, for my death would lead another to greatness. I had met my destiny and it was beautiful. I smiled as the darkness grew around me on my descent. I sang songs and danced. I was going to change someone’s life forever. There was no better way!

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