written during my second month of freedom from smoking and originally posted on december 24, 2001, this talks about how it's not so much what life throws at us as it is how we react to what life throws at us that determines how we feel.

an empty rowboat

2009 January 19

you've been saving all your extra money for a long, long time and you've just bought yourself a brand-new boat. it's a little rowboat; shiny and clean, not a scratch on it, not a speck of dirt to mar its beautifully-painted surface, no algae, no rust on the locks, not even a grain of sand inside it. it's never been in the water. it's immaculate. pristine. you're very proud of it.

the only sound now is the almost inaudible sound of the water gently lapping at the sides of your boat, and with the thick mist surrounding you, you feel almost as though you're floating in a cloud...

the next morning, you get up before the sun and head out to your favorite lake; you can't wait to try your new rowboat. as you reach the launch and start to back the boat trailer into the water, the sun is just starting to color the sky over the eastern shore of the lake. you put your boat gently into the water, park your car, and head back to the launch. the air is perfectly still; there's not a sound except for your deck shoes crunching in the gravel and the distant call of a water bird somewhere off in the distance. you feel totally at peace. at one with nature. everything's right in your world. you smile.

the lake is covered with a thick mist that hangs just above the surface of the water; you think you've never seen anything quite so beautiful... you walk out on the dock to where your pride and joy is tethered and you step in, then reach back, untie the lines, pull in the bumpers, and push off. as you drift away from shore, the mist envelopes you, and you feel as though you could be the only person on the face of the earth. you set the oars into their locks, and you start to pull.

you fall into a rhythm, and continue to row steadily until you're well out onto the lake, then you decide to simply let the boat drift where it will and just sit back and enjoy the peace and quiet. the only sound now is the almost inaudible sound of the water gently lapping at the sides of your boat, and with the thick mist surrounding you, you feel almost as though you're floating in a cloud... you can't imagine feeling more peaceful than you do right at this moment...

when suddenly, through the mist just ahead, you see an old, weather-beaten rowboat heading straight at you! you think, "what's wrong with this idiot?! he's going to run right into me!" you can't believe this! you've only had your new boat for a few hours, and already, some inconsiderate ass is trying to wreck it on you! you shout, "hey! what the hell's wrong with you?!?! watch where you're going!!!" you're so mad! your fists are clenched, you're actually shaking with rage, and you can't wait until this jerk gets close enough to where you can reach him so you can punch him in the nose!

then you see that the other rowboat is empty. you take one of your oars and you push the old, weather-beaten derelict away from your shiny new rowboat, and it continues to drift past you without touching you at all.

in that moment, when you realized that the other rowboat was empty, what happened to your anger? where did it go?

realize that life is an empty rowboat: life is not "out to get you", it doesn't want to hurt you, or make you feel sad, or angry, or anything at all; life has no intention. it just is. if you're feeling angry, or sad, or afraid, or even if you're feeling happy, or at peace, or full of love, it's not because life is "making" you feel that way; it's because that's how you're choosing to feel about life in this moment.

it's all about choice.

your choice.

(inspired by a dharma talk given by charlotte joko beck)

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2 responses leave one →
  1. 2003 March 5
    Chrissy permalink

    Needed to reread the empty rowboat today..... made me feel a little better. Thanks Kevin... your little sis, Chrissy

  2. 2009 January 19

    note: the comment above was left on the original tale at the date and time indicated.

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