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Keep Paddling

When we find ourselves in turbulent and troubled times we often feel lost. Our friends and family, whom we feel connected to, may feel distant and separated. We want to find help but we don’t know where to look.

Hazur Maharaj Ji sometimes compared us to logs floating down a river. The current brings us in contact with each other for a while; then it pulls us apart. He reminds us:

If we look at our own lives we see that some family members have already left us and passed on, while we ourselves are preparing to leave others behind. Anyone who has watched pieces of wood floating down a river will have noticed how one current brings them all together, and then another disperses them. It is the same with worldly relationships.

Imagine the currents in a river. The movement of one brings several pieces of wood together, while the movement of another disperses them. Similarly, a wave of karma arises, and within moments all our relationships are established: brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, friends, and acquaintances. Another wave of karma comes and they all scatter, all in their own particular directions.1

Hazur would often quote Guru Nanak Sahib:

Mother, father are transient relationships,
  an affliction of the body;
  afflicted is the entire family.2

In the course of our own life, we might feel that we are in a river. Some days it flows smoothly, tranquil and serene. Other days it’s more like a run of whitewater rapids, smashing into rocks and tumbling through canyons. We try our best to stay afloat, but we feel we can barely keep our head above water.

There are some adventurous folks who like to ride in wild rivers for fun, floating in inflated rafts, paddling by hand, under the direction of a guide. They lead people down the rivers, through churning ‘rapids’ as well as smooth, pond-like flows. Those folks do it for the adventure, even though there are risks involved. They ride in the boat, and each boat has a guide who steers the boat and gives direction to the riders.

The guide sits at the back of the boat and calls out directions to the riders, “Right side forward! Back paddle!” Each rider has a paddle, to pull the boat through still parts of the river and to steer and control the boat in shifting waters.

What’s most important for the riders is to listen to the guide and follow the directions he gives. This can keep the boat and the riders both safe and moving toward their goal. As we make our way through our lives on this path we may have a similar experience, and it may be helpful to know what the river guides have to say. Their directions are simple:

First – Stay in the boat.
When we’re on the river in a turbulent stretch, our boat may be bouncing around from one side of the river to the other, from still water to whirlpools, and we don’t know what to do. We may start thinking we can do better if we just jump out of the boat and start swimming. The boat feels so limiting, and we’re sure we can do better on our own.

Similarly, when turbulent times erupt in our own lives, we may feel that the way of life that the master has given us is too restrictive. We want more freedom and flexibility. The ‘four walls of his commandments’ may seem like the walls of a jail cell rather than a fortress of protection.

On the river, when the boat is tossing and turning, the guide calls out directions for our safety: “Hold on! Keep your arms and legs inside! Stay in the boat!”

On our personal river journey, when things are going wild all around us and we can’t seem to make sense of it all, it is tempting to just jump out. We may feel that this way of life is just impractical or too difficult. Keeping to the diet, monitoring our conduct, and our regular daily practice that we have pledged to follow may feel too restrictive, and we just want out.

Here it is most important to remember the first instruction of the guide: Stay in the boat. We may think we might do better in the water on our own, but the guide has seen the river and the troubles ahead. If we’re in the water on our own, there is nothing to protect us from the rocks and tree branches that line the river and can pull us under the current. In the boat, we have a structure that can protect us. The master gives us a way of life that protects us from the dangers of the wild river we find ourselves in.

Second – Keep the boat pointing in the right direction.
The currents of the river can turn the boat from side to side and even spin it around. The guide is experienced here and gives direction for keeping the boat pointed in the best direction. He may call out, “Right side forward! Left side back!” to keep the boat in the moving current of the river.

Similarly, the master advises us to keep our eye on our goal and the main purpose of life and to keep things in perspective. Here it is useful to attend satsang, read the books, and keep good company. We want to keep our mind pointed in a good direction and at least to know the right direction to be able to make good choices.

Third – Keep paddling.
We are in the boat, and we are keeping our goal in view, so now it’s up to us to take action. We need to keep paddling, to maintain our daily meditation practice. The practice is just that – a thing we do every day to keep the boat steady. The river is always flowing and we don’t know when or where the turbulence may come. We need to keep our paddle in the water, to build the good feeling of regular daily meditation. And never miss a day.

Then, as we go on in life, dealing with the ups and downs by following this guidance, we may realize that these instructions also apply when we sit for meditation:

Stay in the boat – Here the boat is the eye center, where we want to maintain our focus.

Keep the boat pointing in the right direction – Here the right direction is upward and inward. We want to keep our attention there and keep bringing it back when it goes out.

Keep paddling – Simran, repetition, is the one action that we can take that always keeps us moving toward our spiritual goal.

  1. Spiritual Discourses, Vol. 2, p. 272
  2. Adi Granth, M1, p. 1153