The Lotus Effect

Living in a pond,
Survival depends on one’s —
Water repellence.

The trick to living as a lotus leaf is to be on (or when possible slightly above) the water’s surface, and yet to remain forever dry. Even when it rains, or when the pond level rises and threatens to engulf the plant, the leaf remains resistant to harm; and of course the peculiar harm it must avoid is that of being infused with the prevailing wetness, which is to say of succumbing to the surrounding conditions.

“The dry soul is wisest and best,” says Heraclitus, for dryness is the necessary condition of combustibility, and fire is the Logos. And yet the life of complete and permanent isolation — the life lived far above the water, or alone in the desert — is simply untenable. More precisely, such a life is too easy. Meaning, for humans who aspire to wisdom, is found amid the struggle. However, we must resist the temptation to get romantic about this. Apart from those rare moments of practical crisis which, in the context of the search for self-knowledge, are actually irrelevant precisely in proportion as they feel definitive, the struggle of which I speak is not essentially waged against tidal waves and vortices, but rather against the calm stillness of the pond. The allure of the ordinary, the comfort of the expected, the call of “everyone else,” the sirens of Normal: these comprise the primary theater of operations in one’s ongoing war for a truly independent mind, or dry soul.

The lotus leaf has found the secret. Not only does it have the capacity to bead the ever-present, ever-encircling water on its surface rather than absorbing it, thereby remaining essentially dry, but even more impressively, the beaded water, in running off, washes dirt particles from the surface, thus leaving the leaf not only unharmed by that water which was intent on soaking and submerging it, but actually healthier than if it had never encountered the threatening water at all.

The driest soul is not the one that hides in the mountaintops and deserts, but rather the one that has cultivated a texture which is effectively untouchable by water, and that is therefore able to live in ponds without fear, and moreover to thrive in the cleansing effects of perfect resistance.

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