Imagine a traveler on an epic journey, a quest. He’s making progress through tough terrain and comes to a wide, roiling river with no bridge in sight. But he discovers a small, abandoned row boat near the river bank. He takes the boat and uses it to get across the river. Once he reaches the other side he picks up the boat, lofts it overhead, and begins to carry the boat as he continues his quest on foot.
His journey would be easier and more reasonable if he put the boat down and left it behind. But the boat was valuable to him, precious even. It got him across what seemed to be an uncrossable river, and he wasn’t going to let go of such a useful tool, even though it was no longer serving its useful purpose. In fact, the boat was impeding the traveler’s quest now. Why not put it down and continue the journey unburdened?
A story like this is attributed to the Buddha. And it resonates with me. I’ve had boats – philosophies, habits, opinions, beliefs – that were useful in my life’s journey, that got me further along the path and helped me grow. And then I clung to them even though I had moved into territory where they weren’t needed any longer. I was convinced the boat was crucial because of the good it had done me. I feared letting go of the boat – the cherished idea or belief – would leave me lost and stall my journey.
But I’ve learned I can honor the role the boat played in my quest and still put it down and move on. And if I get to another roiling river on my journey, I’ll go get another boat or find a bridge or swim.
Attach yourself only to this step on the path, to this moment. Drop old boats and any other cherished but unnecessary burdens and lighten your load for a more excellent journey.