Muddy Water … Becomes Clear


How cleaning my fish tank teaches spiritual self-care.




Dear Friends,

Only five weeks into this blogging endeavor, and I’ve already missed the Friday deadline I set myself! I apologize. You see, I gave myself some stillness ...


Three years ago, my friend Liz boarded her aquarium and resident pearl gourami with me when she left for seminary. I hoped the graceful sweep of fish and trickling murmur of the tank would enhance the calm in my life. Of course, I hadn’t anticipated kitty swiping at the glass enough to drive the gourami into hiding. Nor had I expected to test the tank water continuously for pH, ammonia, nitrates, ich, and other horrors that could poison Liz’s little pal. No, my fish-sitting gig wasn’t as restful as planned. Most fiddly of all, I needed to clean the filters and tank regularly, a process eased by a siphon that extracts the organic (poop) laden bottom water before I add fresh water devoid of chlorine.

I knew to save the filthy siphoned waste. When I had a fish tank for my kids, I had discovered that this dirty water, an excellent fertilizer, provided a nutrient-rich bonanza for my plants. Now years later, I duly decanted the murky water into several jars to save.

And forgot them.

A few days later, I noticed the dirty water seemed to be separating into dense muck on the bottom and less mucky water on top. Over the next week as sediment slowly settled, the water became clearer. And after many days, the top water seemed crystalline.


My observations are not unique. Lao-Tzu, the ancient philosopher knew this 2,500 years ago: “Muddy water/let stand/becomes clear.” This wisdom reaches beyond hydrology to one’s spiritual essence. So, this weekend, when my soul simmered with a witches’ brew of fatigue and foreboding, I knew what to do: Be still. Just be still. The mental mud will clear.

Were my disquiet a single blob, it might be easier to grasp and remove. Rather it’s the infinitesimal fragments, the swirling residue of uncountable concerns that cause the murk. I consider the particles broken from the Big Picture worries: Family awaiting Covid vaccines; my Covid-reentry anxiety; friends’ dicey health; ghastly world events I cannot fix; even local news feed of this sweet New Hampshire town screams “robberies, crashes and fires.” O my! End of semester goodbyes and longer-term goodbyes. I’ve absorbed my children’s disappointments by osmosis, just a little, simply because they are my children. Even a darn fox marauds my grand-chickens. And this nailing heat …


Individually, none of these life events overwhelm me, but like the build-up of sediment, tiny worries accumulate, slowly cloud, and eventually clog my soul. I recognize that I’ve lost clarity only when my otherwise hopeful mood dims, my motivation flags, and I ask myself, “Why am I so tired?”


“Muddy water/let stand/becomes clear.”





So I stop. Drop onto the couch. Read. Anything that will spirit me away from now and into stillness. This time I curled up with The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher a novel I’ve read at least 15 times since I met it in 1988. Its 600 pages always transport me and make me cry. Catharsis.

Meanwhile, I turn off the news. Reschedule appointments. Doze. This is how I “let stand.” And eventually, the ancient miracle happens yet again and refreshes my spirit.

May it refresh yours, as well. ###


Invitation/ Your Turn

  • What refreshes your spirit? Create a metaphor for this. Expand on it.


Photo credits: Aquarium, Huy Phan, Unsplash; Glass, Joseph Greve, Unsplash


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