Gently Down the Stream
Do you remember that silly song; ‘Row, Row, Row your boat’…
Think of the times that you’ve either sung that song or remember hearing it. The memories conjured will probably be those of a group of children reluctantly being lead through a disharmonious exercise by an energetic camp counselor or grade school teacher. It’s a very simple song that enjoys cultural awareness and lasting popularity. In fact it may be one of the most well-known and widely sung bits of music ever to permeate our culture. Yet as an elegant and rare masterpiece of profound simplicity, it has been overlooked and dismissed.
When have you ever given this song more than just a distracted, passing thought? Have you ever considered the possibility that this ditty is actually a deep and wise metaphorical template with profound implications for life, embodying the wisdom of the Tao, the essence of Buddhism and the Vedas all the while remaining essentially invisible and overlooked?
Let’s listen to the words again. “Row, row, row your boat”…. Each of us cast into the sea of life is given a body-soul vessel, which allows us to float within the currents of life. Each individual is supported within one’s fragile dinghy but also not confined to our floatable conveyance. And each boatman is allowed some small range of choice, latitude and movement– even the option of leaving the boat by slipping over the side and into the waters for a time, or discarding one’s boat altogether and swimming for shore.
“Gently down the stream” The song tells us not to row up stream but glide with the current; rowing gently in the flow of the waters, allowing ourselves to be buoyed within the current of life. This is the essence of the Lao-tzu’s message from the Tao-te-ching. The way to do this, says the song, is to flow merrily and rhythmically dipping our oars gently as we are swept with the current. This is how we journey through life and this trip down river is not to be a serious or solemn affair. If we are in the flow and maintain a proper attitude, life becomes a wonderful, amazing and merry adventure.
Often in the course of being swept along down the stream, we must ride our individual rafts through torrents and rapids and occasionally even over falls. But there are also many moments of floating in the calm places, the back waters and the peaceful eddies. It can all be a grand, merry journey, but a ride that will someday end, as the song goes, with an awakening from this reverie: an awakening to a clear awareness of our temporal and insubstantial existence. This is the moment when the dreamer opens out and becomes aware of the grand dream, the veiled overlay to life.
This is nothing to be particularly concerned about. It will happen to everyone eventually. Each human being takes their individual boat ride, and at some point, we all awaken to the dream quality, though most of us only as the body falls away. But for a few lucky few, who somehow awaken early while still on the ride, their journey can indeed become as merry as the song suggests when they are able to realize clearly and presently that this life unfolding is but a dream. As such, they are able to live within the Tao flowing: not grasping or holding to life, but constantly releasing and moving to the next fresh moment. These lucky ones will live alive – a life fully lived.
So let us, you and I, embark upon such a journey, a boat ride down this dark mystical river of life. This particular trip will be a very special and unique journey, a dream within the larger dream – an adventure and an exploration of psyche and her deep mysteries. We will meander slowly downstream looking at amazing and wonderful sights along the banks of the river, within coves and tributaries, stopping at small settlements and cities along the way, meeting fascinating people, encountering unexpected danger and wild turbulence. However, on this trip there will be a special twist, for we will find ourselves occupying the vessel of the mythical boatman Charon, the eternal ferryman of the river Styx.
Yes you’re right–your boat will indeed be the boat of death; the mythical transport for all who transit the dark and mysterious waters when leaving the shores of the living for the banks across to unknown lands. The ferryman Charon, who has carried all departed souls across the river to their final destination shall be our guide and mentor on this trip. Within this vessel marked with the moniker of death, our task will be to develop recognition of deaths’ visage. With the mythological agent of death as our guide and persistent shadowy influence as we travel the death’s dark waters, we will begin to view life from a perspective few are willing or able to hold.
We will learn that death is not to be feared at all. It is something to be embraced. The Angel of Death sitting on your shoulder can show you life and teach you about change, acceptance, and the flow of life and the constant cycling and interweaving of life and death. Charon will teach us how to navigate through life with its’ numerous currents, cross currents, eddies snags and waterfalls. We will learn how to become our own ferryman.
Charon knows all the tricks, the bargains and dance of avoidance. He’s seen it all. We will drink of Charon’s insight, wisdom and knowing – seeing life from both sides as he shuttles back and forth between the aspects and opposing shores of life. Learning to step beyond and see both the in and out, the near and far together as the same terrain. You see that it’s not about death at all, but about life complete: immensely fuller with death included, embraced and seen permeating and infusing everywhere, providing the real edge, vitality and dynamic richness to life.
We will not be crossing over permanently to the opposite shore on this excursion. That will come later. This will be a simple “sightseeing” trip and we shall return, although assuredly not the same as we are now at departure. If you accept this offer to enter the boat of the ferryman Charon, you shall never be the same again.
Last chance to climb aboard, we’re ready to cast off.