There’s a wonderful Zen story about a man who is out on the lake in his boat. I have read many translations of this story but basically while enjoying his time on the water, he looks over to see another boat on the lake. He thinks to himself how the other person on the boat must be enjoying the lake like himself. Then he notices how the boat is heading straight for his boat. He screams out, “watch out,” but the boat is still moving fast. He stands up and waves his hands and screams even louder, but the other boat is coming right towards him. Inevitably, the boat slams into his boat. With rage, he looks inside the boat, wanting to unleash his anger all over the person who did not heed his warnings before crashing into him, but the boat is empty.
He couldn’t unleash his anger on an empty that just happened to be on course to hit his boat. It was then he realized the empty boat was his teacher.
When people, situations, boats full of doubt and sadness and anger head straight for us, there is something soothing about saying the mantra, “empty boat.” Perhaps those people are in boats out of their control, without any rudders, and although they are heading towards us, perhaps their own wounds are steering them instead of their higher selves? The empty boat is our whole life really and we get to choose how we react to all that is not in our control. Even when people are unkind to us, they are showing their pain, as if saying, “I am an empty boat.”
In a way, that is what my book, “Inside the River” is about…the way in which Emma and Ana learn to let go of that empty boat crashing into them (with the help of some magic and the singing fish).