Learning how to maintain a sense of humour and not take things personally can be challenging, especially on the days when we feel like we are paddling up stream;)
The following is an excerpt from Dan Millman’s new book The Hidden School. Thank you to Dan who is one of my mentors and bestselling author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior for giving permission to share this great Zen story to help us find equanimity.
After class a few days later, I decided to share a large message with the students. After reminding them that they must not only dedicate their lives to their training but dedicate their training to their lives – and how acrobatic practice develops not only physical agility but a flexible state of mind – I taught them a simple warm up song in English which means Mei Bao translated so they understood the meaning of each phrase. After that before each practice began, we would sing ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat.’
“Many children learn this song in my country”, I said, “but few people understand its deep truths. These truths apply as you’ll see, not only to acrobatics or t’ai chi training but to all of life. The words ‘Row, row, row your boat’ remind us to build our lives on a foundation of action and effort, not on positive thoughts or feelings. Thinking about doing something is the same as not doing it. Our lives are shaped by what we actually do – by rowing our boat. Only effort over time brings results in training in everyday life.”
One of the students volunteered a Chinese proverb, shyly at first and then with growing enthusiasm: ‘With enough time and patience, one can level a mountain with a spoon!’
“Exactly!” I said, hearing myself echo Papa Joe’s ‘Exactamente!’.
“The next four words, ‘gently down the stream’, advise us to avoid unnecessary tension, to row with the flow of the Tao, the natural tides and current of life –“
“What we Chinese call wu wei, or non-resistance,” Mei Bao added.
“And ‘merrily, merrily, merrily’ is a repeated reminder to live with a highlighted spirit, to take ourselves less seriously, and to solve the problems of daily life with the same fun loving attitude you bring to learning acrobatics.” With that, I dove into a handstand and clapped my feet together. The students followed enthusiastically. I heard Chun Han’s hoarse bark from the back of the group.
“Finally, consider the last line of the song: ‘Life is but a dream’. Please discuss its meaning with one another during the evening meal.”
Before they departed, I asked my students to gather around me, and I reminded them of a Taoist folktale about Joshu, a worker in China who had to row his small boat up and across the Fen each day to reach his work. “In the morning,” I said, warming to the tale, “Joshu had to row against the current, but the trip home was far easier. One morning, as he pulled his oars, making his way upstream, he felt a sudden jolt as the craft of another boatman collided with his rowboat. Joshu shook his fist at the careless boatman, yelling, ‘Watch where you are going!’ It took him many minutes to calm down as he thought about how people should pay better attention. No sooner had his anger subsided than he felt another jolt as a different craft struck his boat. He couldn’t believe it! Now fully enraged, he turned to berate another idiot. But his words fell away and his anger as he saw an empty boat must have pulled loose from its moorings and drifted downstream.
“So, what do you think the story means?” I asked as a smiling Mei Bao translated.
The students discussed the story among themselves before one of them spoke. Mei Bao told me, “Hai Liang says we must treat everyone like an empty boat.”
I smiled and nodded with approval, which seemed to make the students as proud as they had made me.
Later, as I watched their animated conversation in the dining hall, Mei Bao told me, “They’re earnestly discussing how life might be a wonderful dream.”
Thanks Dan for reminding us not to take ourselves so seriously and next time we receive a little ‘knock’ from someone that we want to quickly react to we can simply treat it like the empty boat
Our mindfulness training courses including newly announced Level 2 dates as well as the pre-requisite Level 1 training course coming up in October! Click here to find out more and book your place.
If you would like to purchase a copy of Dan’s incredible new story you can do so here.
Thank you for reading