I picked up a book about Zen for people in recovery, The Zen of Recovery by Mel Ash. Ash was telling his five year old son about his new computer and how “smart” it is. His son told him that sticks are smarter. When Ash asked his son to explain, he said that when he put a stick in the pond, it floated around a big rock instead of getting hung up upon it. He thought the stick was pretty smart and Ash had to concede that if he threw the computer in the water, it would sink like a rock. So the stick is “smart” when it comes to basic survival.
What Ash was trying to teach is that while we may think we can control life with our abundance of rationales, explanations and predictions, the reality is that life is happening all around us and we are just in it. Our task is to maneuver rather than manage. I thought of the rudder in a boat. What a wise person it was who created the rudder! Most of us go through life trying to control the direction of the river, totally convinced that we know where it ought to go and how to get it to go there. But this only leads to anxiety and disappointment. To have serenity in one’s life, it makes more sense to go with the flow of the river of life while using that gift of the rudder to adjust our position so that we can flow more easily. I think of the rudder as my free will, the little choices I make from moment to moment that help me keep my serenity.
When I set out on my day, I usually have a plan. But sometimes I get a phone call or a pain in my lower back that makes me realize that my plan isn’t going to work. I can fight, complain, and argue, or I can go with the flow, using my rudder to get me into the new currents so they carry me along instead of toppling my canoe.