There have been two truisms that have kept popping-up for me as I’ve been contemplating the complex and potentially stressful planetary movements in the near future, “Life is always about the journey, never about the destination,” and “Go with the flow.” Even though these “New Age” bumper-sticker mentalities have been around for decades (and millennia) they are truisms because they are true. I dare for anyone to prove they’re not.
In other words, our mission in this life – should we choose to accept it – is to go with the flow and to learn to love watching our journeys unfold.
No matter what anyone may try to tell us, life does indeed come with an instruction manual which is wonderfully and deeply encoded within the first song we probably ever learned, “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream,” it just might need some clarification and expansion. Don’t laugh, but you may feel the need to at least smile by the end of this essay.
is sung three times, clearly indicating that hard work is needed on our part to make life happen favorably for us, instead of life painfully happening to us. Rowing a boat is a repetitive and consistent activity (good exercise to boot), showing us that perseverance is always required to stay on-task. Rowing our own boat is only implied but strongly recommended, as trying to row someone else’s boat makes life difficult for our selves, and by doing so, it is almost impossible to empower an other person to exercise their own free-will. We’d only be going around in circles with one arm out of service, glued to some thing or someone we have no right to hold onto.
Everyone of us has our own boat of our own natal/karmic design. Some may seem to have speed-boats passing us by on all sides but they can’t necessarily see the rocks in the stream until it’s too late. Others seem to have only a cardboard box in constant danger of sinking. We need to help lift them out if we are able, leading them safely to the shore but then we need to dispassionately let them go in order to let them mend their own boats.
Still others are stuck on sandbars yet they don’t even know it, looking at the same shoreline of their limitations and resigning themselves to their fate. Or worse, believing that the stream of life doesn’t even flow, merely existing in the denial of the sciences of gravity and fluidity. Consistently rowing our own boats forward allows us to enjoy the scenery and steer clear of the obstacles that threaten to sink us.
The next words “gently” and “down” (the stream) allows us to arrive at new levels of understanding in the ever-changing scenery. “Gently” means going with the flow of the stream, never rowing madly to get ahead. And “down the stream” indicates that it is against our best interests to look too far into the past or try to row backward. Living the good life is therefore all about moving forward in a peaceful and gentle manner.
Both images – peace and gentility – are critical for true success, yet it also implies that there is no destination. Our stream will eventually flow into the ocean, but the ocean isn’t mentioned in this song for a very important reason – because the ocean is our ultimate destination. After all, this is a song about how to live our lives correctly, it’s not a song about dying.
The next words are repeated four times, stressing the importance of the ideal way to navigate the stream of life: “Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily” points to the obvious need for retaining joy in every aspect of our lives. In this regard, the state of enlightenment can simply be defined as being “lightened-up,” which reminds us of another sad but true truism, “Life is a banquet, yet some poor Souls are starving to death.”
“Life is but a dream”
concludes the song, compelling us to imagine our lives any way we want to. Dreams arising while we’re asleep are fragments of our subconscious minds needing expression that our waking conscious minds can’t or won’t make sense of, yet some sleeping dreams can be seen as cautionary. These warning nightmares are indications that something in our personal lives isn’t working the way it should, like we’re stuck on a rock or a sandbar, or somehow fearing the nature of the stream of life itself. “Life is but a dream”
is therefore more about our daydreams, the flights of fancy that can arrive through our limitless imaginations. This last line in Life’s Little Instruction Manual reminds us of our most essential birthright – we can’t live in a more perfect world unless we can imagine it first. It also suggests the Hindu concept of “maya,” life’s illusionary framework that tells us there is no such thing as an immovable obstacle.
Adding further poignancy to this “silly” little song is that it’s tonal structure is called a “round,” where three groups of kids in a circle pick up the tune at three different stages. The harmony it creates stays with us our whole lives when we choose to remember it, but we tend to forget how necessary harmony is as we age and lean toward selfishness and cynicism. The double and triple meanings of the word “round” is lost to us when we ignore that a round circle is the sacred geometry of completion and the cyclical nature of life.
Too simple? Consider the rewrite, “Propel, propel, propel your craft, placidly down the liquid solution, ecstatically, ecstatically, ecstatically, ecstatically, existence is but an illusion.”
(Thanks go out to the late, great Reverend Jack Graf of Raleigh NC’s Unity Church for planting this seed.)