The Lotus Effect

Recently I was lucky enough to travel to Cambodia. A long-held dream to visit Angkor Wat and the mighty temple complexes was realised. I came away with my head full of images and stories and truths of a civilisation so sophisticated it staggered me. Along the way I was also swept up in local tours and attractions but the one which truly struck a chord was a lotus flower farm.

The lotus flower is a sacred symbol for Buddhists and Hindus and flourishes across South East Asia. On the edges of Tonle Sap, a huge fresh water lake, our guide took us to a lotus farm. Like a paddy field, raised muddy walkways surrounded huge ponds, thick with rubbery lotus leaves, buds and pink flowers. Right on cue the afternoon monsoon rain arrived. Huge warm drops, splashing onto the plants and churning the pond water.

I had never really looked at lotus leaves but in the down pour I watched them. Water gathers on the leaves and it moves like balls of mercury. Sometimes they collide with each other and sometimes they roll and cascade over the edge. The self-cleaning properties of a lotus leaf cause water droplets to scoop up dirt and stop it sticking to the leaf. Of course the science is fascinating. How amazing for something to be able to self-clean and like butterfly wings the lotus leaf is the subject of much investigation. But more than that was the way the droplets moved. Totally at the mercy of the pond or the crash of a rain drop.

Our guide came and stood beside me. ‘You know,’ he said. ‘We think of our lives like the water on the leaves.’ We watched as a small drop joined with a bigger one. Others scattered and shifted across the leaf, all on different paths. The pond rippled and our big drop rolled closer to the edge. As a wave hit the leaf it tumbled overboard. He smiled, ‘See, like life. We never know when we are going to live or die.’

The image of that pond, in the rain, in Cambodia, stays with me. The lotus effect is not only a scientific breakthrough but a powerful lesson in acceptance.

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