With my meditation practice becoming a regular part of my life, I am starting to realize what it feels like to settle in and just be. About 40 minutes a day, I am comfortable just allowing the world to flail wildly around me without my participation. I just breathe. It feels comforting to just let it all go on about its business.
As the feeling of “just being” becomes more normal, I am very aware of the stark contrast of how I feel when I’m “trying to make things happen”. I am aware of my striving. I am aware of my judgment and criticism of the things around me. I am aware of the difference in the way I feel in comparison with my few minutes a day of just being me. And I’m developing a strong preference for just being. Not ironically, I’m starting to realize the benefits of meditation.
I was canoeing last weekend, and I had a gentle reminder about striving. The person in the front of our boat was hell-bent on steering the boat to where we needed to go. This person was also the strongest in the boat. So, when he saw an obstacle ahead, he’d dig in and paddle, paddle, paddle furiously in the other direction. The current in the river kept coming, of course, and the rest of the boat would lurch in the direction of the obstacle. Our rudder person ended up in the trees every time. I spent most of my time paddling backwards trying to compensate for his over-compensation. I had to use my meditation practice to just let it be what it was and play my part. A few times I suggested that he not do that as it was throwing his wife in the trees, but he couldn’t stop this habit. And it was, in a word, frustratingly meaningful.
At one point in our journey, there was a tree felled across the river with minimal space between its branches and the water. Our “wild man” decided we should paddle wildly to get under it. The only problem was there was no room for us to get under it. I suggested just as we were about to hit it that we slow down and just pull ourselves under the branches SLOWLY. I can’t imagine what would have happened if we’d slammed into that tree. Thank heavens he relented.
Even though my job and my new preference is to just be, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have something to contribute. In fact, it is quite the contrary. Part of “being” is being who I am. The river didn’t change because our canoe was struggling. The river just kept being the river. It was beautiful. We complained because it was cold. We complained because it was high, and the water was swift. We railed against its tendency to be inconsiderate of us in where it landed its debris. The river said, “It is what it is, and I am who I am. Your job is to learn to work with me – not fight against me.”
The person in the front of our canoe seemed to have the attitude that we needed to hurry up and get this done and avoid any obstacles. I’ve been that person myself so I’m not judging. But we got better as we learned to navigate obstacles, work together even if it meant compensating for someone else’s shortcomings and just let the boat float for a time and enjoy the scenery.
I realized that paddling – and life – is about the journey. It’s about teamwork if you are with a team or honing your own skills if you are alone. The challenge is to work when it’s time to work and to “just be” when the waters are calm. And sometimes, you have to “just be” and let the obstacles overtake you. The trick is to learn to work with the river. Use the current to help you navigate instead of fighting it. Harness its energy and work with it, and you can go right where you need to go. Let the obstacles teach you. Let the calm spells quiet you. Realize that you are not fighting the river for your life. The river IS your life.