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.
Have you ever read the poem, IF, by Rudyard Kipling?
If you can keep your head, while others around you are losing theirs…..If you can wait and not be tired of waiting….If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same….
This poem comes to mind as I reflect on my practice–not just when I have my eyes closed, meditating, but also when I am engaged in my life’s daily events. It’s really those times “off the mat” (to steal a yoga phrase) that I know mindfulness is truly being cultivated. Indeed, it is how I approach those those difficult moments that I am able to recognize that my effort is worthwhile.
I have to celebrate the process, the journey, and the struggle of mediation. Although noticing that my mind is wandering may seem like a failure at first, however, over time, it is becoming the evidence and validation that my practice of mindfulness is paying off. This awareness is the essence of a mindful moment.
What surprises me is the development outside of my meditation- not just the awareness of the emotion that I am experiencing but also the the shift in my perception. I can look at challenging people and situations and find something within these experiences to have gratitude for. It’s like these emotionally gritty experiences are turning dirt into pearls of wisdom for me. Of course, to become attached to this transformation seems to contradict the point of mindfulness as well. However treating my successes and failures with the same openness is something I can strive towards. Though cultivating mindfulness as my preset default mode seems to be a BIG If, but nevertheless, its pursuit is worthy of my effort.
I really appreciated the distinctions and nuances of self-compassion during Dr. Craig and Dr. Richard recap of the “self” . Up until now, I never realized how connected heartfulness is to mindfulness. I always thought it was just about awareness, but now I know that connecting the heart with the mind is a big part of the practice. And there’s plenty of material in our lives in which we get to put knowledge into action. Every time we read or listen to the news, check our social media, and engage in conversations with those around us–every moment presents a challenge and an opportunity. And now that I know better, the question I have to ask myself: can I do better?
My heart says: Breathe. This is going to take practice. Breathe. This is going to take practice. Breathe. This is going to take practice. Breathe. Keep practicing. Be patient.
My mind says: You can’t do this. You’ll always be impatient and judgemental. It’s your nature. You are hardwired to be critical. Give up, it’s useless.
I feel like trying to coax my mind into a friendship with my heart is like trying to convince a card carrying NRA member that America needs gun control laws–A frustrating endeavor that requires unemotional focus and patience. And I have to wonder, is it even possible? Can my thoughts shake hands with my heart and come into agreement? It seems to me that I have to develop my heart muscle. As I have chartered into a new dimension of my self-awareness through this mindfulness practice, it has become crystal clear that I need balance between my thoughts and emotions. Self-compassion seems absolutely relevant and necessary as I develop into the person I wish to be.
As an aside, I find it uncanny and appropriate how the Chinese character for patience involves the graph for heart, as well as recognizing the possible danger and struggle that can ensue when developing patience.
May I be happy.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful.
May I be safe.
May I be me.