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  • Patrick

A Small Boat on a Vast Ocean

Updated: Feb 19, 2022

If you took part in orientation sessions with me, you might remember hearing me describe how we often experience our lives as being like sitting in a small boat floating on a vast sea. In every direction, nothing but water as far as the eye can see. And our little boat is swept here and there, up and down, around and around, by constant fierce winds and crashing waves. Swirling in the endless ocean's large waves the tiny boat floats, driven by powerful forces.

And what are these powerful forces driving our boat? Our thoughts and feelings, our fears and longings, the things we want -- praise, success, recognition, rewards -- and the things we don't want -- blame, failure, isolation, invisibility. All these forces live inside us, and batter at us constantly. They are the strong winds and destructive waves that send our frail boat whirling willy-nilly all over the unsettled ocean waters. And that's not all. These forces inside us are strengthened and augmented by outside forces, too. The world of advertising, politics, and social media seduce us, frighten us, and exhaust us with their constant streams of stimulation and distraction.

And with all these unforgiving pressures battering the little boat, is it any wonder that our energy is constantly focused on efforts to keep from sinking? And so, the important questions that also live inside us but that are overpowered by these forces, can barely be asked, let alone answered: How did I get on this boat? How do I sail it? Where am I going?

And if you have heard me use this image before, you know that I am going to say that zazen is one way we can find help to navigate the stormy seas, and maybe even discover a compass to help us sail it.

Sitting in silence does not, alas, transform the churning waves into a calm sea or turn the stormy winds into a gentle breeze. But it can make the waves a little smaller and the winds a little less destructive so that they are less in control of the boat. Then, perhaps feeling less swamped, we can take a breath and allow those vital human questions buried underneath them surface.

I recalled this image as I hear every day about how the terrifying waves of Covid, and especially Omicron, have changed the ocean storm into a typhoon. Now our boat is tossed and turned, flipped around, and even taking on water. And we wonder whether or not our fragile craft will survive this most recent assault. How much longer will we have strength to bail? And who knows how long this overwhelming storm will last?

But I will say, once again, that zazen can help. It won't bring Omicron to an end, but the winds and waves it riles up in us can be made a little less powerful through giving ourselves a time of silence and simple breathi

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