The Empty Boat

And now, the second in a cluster of posts on my favorite Zen stories. Here’s the version related by Pema Chodron in her book Start Where You Are:

A man is enjoying himself on a river at dusk. He sees another boat coming down the river toward him. At first it seems so nice to him that someone else is also enjoying the river on a nice summer evening. Then he realizes that the boat is coming right toward him, faster and faster. He begins to get upset and starts to yell, “Hey, hey, watch out! For Pete’s sake, turn aside!” But the boat just comes faster and faster, right toward him. By this time he’s standing up in his boat, screaming and shaking his fist, and then the boat smashes right into him. He sees that it’s an empty boat.

This is the classic story of our whole life situation.

It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I read this story (whatever version of it) or how well I internalize its lesson: I’m still prone to anger at the empty boats that smash into my daily life. And I suspect I’m not alone in this: whether it’s noisy neighbors or insane drivers, trash on the streets and in the woods, a slow line at the store—or in this season, those numbskulls of other political parties—it’s all too easy to lapse into irritation at a world that seems clearly against us.

I’m also reminded of the second of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements: Don’t Take Anything Personally…”Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

Indeed. What are the empty boats in your life? What if we could all let go of the boats brushing past us, doing instead whatever will do the most to minimize suffering? How much more peaceful would life be if we could simply avoid adding to our own (and others’) stress?

Namaste, everyone.


1 Comment

Filed under Zen

One response to “The Empty Boat

  1. I know what you mean. It is work to cultivate a stress-less life, and it can look like laziness from the outside. I still get weird on the holidays, though.

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