Sunday, July 2, 2017

Circumstances and suffering.

In your minds eye picture yourself on a boat floating down a river. Some parts of the river are tranquil pools and some parts are roaring rapids. The river flows continuously with every inch different from what existed a moment ago and the water under our boat just keeps changing. 

We imagine the boat offers us security from the surge. And while we are in those tranquil pools there is very little risk; we just float along enjoying the day and basking in the calm. But the boat moves and the roaring rapids follow the calm, which at times puts holes in the bottom of our boat. So then we have a choice to either fix the holes or sink.

This imaginary reverie is a parable that speaks to attachment and identification. None of us is flowing down the river of life alone. Instead we choose to ride in big or small boats with others who make the same choice. But there are different boats on this river populated by people not like us. And then an unfortunate thing happens: We begin to attach our identities to our boat and when we do, we stop being able to even see the holes, much less repair them.

Everyone rides a boat. The name of our boat may be a particular political party, a family or gang, a union, a nation or a religious institution, or any one of a near infinite set of other configurations, with which we choose to identify. The boat becomes our identity and we cling to “our” boat for fear of drowning since none of us has ever learned to swim. The circumstances of our life are constantly changing like the river. The water is just water. Circumstances are just circumstances. The water is not to be feared and water doesn’t create suffering. It is our fear of being free of our boat that creates suffering. We can’t imagine that we can swim but instead remain prisoners on our boat.

In such a state of mind we become defensive and hostile. When someone in one of those other boats criticizes our boat we suffer because our boat has become who we experience ourselves to be. To criticize our boat feels like the same thing as criticizing us. So then we put a shot across their bow and they respond in kind. We end up sinking their boat and they sink ours. Nobody wins. But the truth is that we are not our boat. Instead we are swimmers who also choose to ride on boats. There is nothing about changing circumstances that produces suffering. That is purely the result of identifying with boats. Maybe we all need to get off our boats and find out that we can swim and survive.
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