“Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.”
This is my all-time favorite rhyme. Although it’s considered a children’s song, it is packed with meaning and inspiration for us big kids too!
Over the years, several different metaphors and meanings have been ascribed to this ditty. Following is my own take on these four wonderful lines.
The boat signifies this body, the transitory home to one’s pure awareness. It is the vessel for moving, learning, and growing. The body serves as the basis through which we can actualize our full potential and realize the true nature of our mind and the universe. How marvelous!
If you look around, you will notice that humans are far outnumbered by the millions of other beings on this planet. Just the number of insects in a big pile of dirt is enormous. In my spiritual tradition, this is the logic behind the belief that it is extremely rare and also precious to be born a human.
Why precious? Because – unlike animals – humans have the awareness and intelligence that can bring about complete personal transformation. We can train our being in limitless love, kindness, compassion, and equanimity. We can learn to let our wisdom mind shine forth.
But a human life isn’t thought to be particularly special if it’s wasted on materialistic pursuits alone. It only becomes unique when we recognize the extraordinary spiritual opportunity it provides to us.
Now, you may not believe in reincarnation, and that’s OK. But the main point to extract from all this is to recognize and appreciate the tremendous opportunity this lifetime holds. You never know when or if you will have the chance of a lifetime again. Afterall, death is real and comes without warning.
So, as the saying goes, make hay while the sun shines. Don’t waste this precious opportunity! Celebrate every moment and use this life for the highest purposes. At the same time, be sure to take good care of your boat – it is a precious vehicle.
Row, row, row
Without rowing, your boat won’t move – will it?
It may end up stuck on the shore, swept violently along by turbulent flows, or crashed to bits over a waterfall. Reaching your destination requires effort, discipline, and clarity of direction.
Distractions abound – don’t let them pull you off your course. At the same time, hold your destination lightly in mind and heart. Stay open. The universe may hold entirely different possibilities for you! Don’t be so tightly focused on one destination that you miss your true path.
Rowing may require effort, but it doesn’t have to be a struggle. When you have a glimpse of the mystery and magic all around you, diligence is naturally infused with joy.
Gently down the stream
Pushing too hard only creates stress, tension, and illness. As popular wisdom tells us, “Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.” The stream of life passes magically before us. Enjoy the fullness of the moment as it streams by. Don’t cling to the past. Just let go!
Merrily, merrily, merrily
Attitude is everything. A gentle, playful spirit will magnetize positivity and good results.
Chances are suffering and challenges will arise on the journey. Use them well. With the right perspective, they will fuel personal evolution. Persevere in choosing joy, whatever comes your way.
Life is but a dream
Life is often likened to an illusion – a dream, a magic show, a visual aberration, a mirage, an echo, a reflection. All that arises in our mind and in the world around us appears yet is empty of inherent existence.
In The Words of My Perfect Teacher, the illustrious 19th century spiritual master Patrul Rinpoche explains how it is when you come to taste the dreamlike quality of reality:
“…objects that appear to it [the mind] do not stop appearing, but the concepts that take them as having any true existence subside. To leave the mind in the realization of the nature of reality, empty yet clear like the sky, is transcendent wisdom.”
Although the world continues to appear before us, and thoughts and emotions continue to arise in the mind, you recognize their transitory, ephemeral nature. When you gradually take to heart the illusory quality of existence, joy, ease, wonder, and spaciousness bubble up inside.
At the same time, a sense of universal responsibility awakens within as you come to observe and appreciate the truth of interdependence. You understand that your actions matter. They have an effect, positive or negative. Understanding this and knowing that negative actions harm you too, you act for the better of all. In fact, compassion naturally pervades your every thought and deed when you hold this profound view of reality lightly in your heart.
The brilliant 14th century spiritual master Longchenpa wrote these beautiful words to capture the unceasing play of emptiness and appearance.
“Since things neither exist nor don’t exist,
are neither real nor unreal,
are utterly beyond adopting and rejecting -
one might as well burst out laughing.”
Imagine what the world would be like if we all adopted such a carefree yet compassionate view of life!
What meanings do you find in this 4-line “children’s” rhyme? Is there another rhyme that resonates meaning and inspiration for you?
Please Note: This is a guest post by my dear and wise friend Sandra Lee from Always Well Within.
About the Author: Sandra Lee writes about living an awake, authentic, happier and healthier life on her personal development blog Always Well Within. Her articles offer a unique blend of personal transformation, wellness, ecology, and essential wisdom to help you realize your best self and be part of creating a better world.You can keep up with her by following her on Twitter @AlwaysWellWithn