If your mission in life is to make a positive difference and not to prove how smart you are and right you can be, then you will appreciate the message of the Empty Boat.
If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
Even though he be a bad-tempered man
He will not become very angry.
But if he sees a man in the boat,
He will shout at him to steer clear.
If the shout is not heard, he will shout again,
And yet again, and begin cursing.
And all because there is somebody in the boat.
Yet if the boat were empty.
He would not be shouting, and not angry.
If you can empty your own boat
Crossing the river of the world,
No one will oppose you,
No one will seek to harm you.
-Chuang Tzu, a Chinese Taoist philosopher
I love this reminder–that no one is intentionally acting maliciously toward us. Just as an empty boat that rams into us isn’t aspiring to injure us, so too people who act unkindly are unconsciously acting out of their own desires. It’s nothing personal. We are not victims of circumstance and until we realize this, we will remain imprisoned by this offense. However if we can shift our focus, assuming innocence and not attaching to it emotionally, then we can experience greater freedom and joy in our lives.
So, as we sit in our boats, we are always at choice as we traverse the rivers of life. So what can we choose?
Well, as I see it, there are 3 directions that I can cast my gaze when reflecting upon how I engage in life:
- Looking inward: my thoughts and judgements of myself.
- Looking outward: my thoughts and actions towards people.
- Looking at the environment: my response to the changes which I have no control over.
I know that I have to take personal responsibility for the emotions I feel, and I am at choice to greet these “empty boats” with anger or amusement. It’s a habit that I wish to cultivate, in which I can view these aspects of my life with non-attachment and acceptance.