Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Going With The Flow

Lurking just beneath the calm surface of the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico, here along the "Emerald Coast", is an often deadly phenomenon know as a rip current. The view from the snow white beaches can be so enticing - and deceiving. Each year there are a handful of visitors and locals alike who fall victim. Whether they are unaware of the danger or just don't take it seriously makes no difference. Once in the current, fear, panic and exhaustion take their toll, with disastrous results. The impulse is to fight, of course. To escape. To control. That's only natural. But if we don't know or understand what it is we're trying to escape from, our actions only lead to the situation getting even worse. And so we struggle more.

The best and easiest way to escape from a rip current is, basically, to do nothing. Relax and go with the flow, but with mindfulness. Relax with awareness and wait for the current to stop. It will cease in it's own time, which is surprisingly fast. So the best course of action is as little action as possible. Easy to say, difficult to actually "do".

Meditation is like this. Dhamma practice is like this. Life is like this. We think we're on solid ground - in control. But there isn't anything really "solid" about any of it. And so we're uncomfortable, unsure, unsteady. If I stand in the water and actually pay attention, there is a continuous push and pull. Sometimes barely even noticeable, sometimes rough and very strong. Mind is the same. Sometimes just barely brushing by and sometimes knocking one flat! Mindfulness - or the lack of it - determines whether we get pulled under and drown or go with the flow until the turbulence begins to subside, calms and finally ceases. This, perhaps, is where control can be found. Not the control of wanting and struggling, but the control of gently releasing the desire for control. Being with the way it is without making it personal, so not trying to change it into anything other than what it is.


Piyal Walpola, MD, PhD said...

Hi Kris,
An Excellent post…..Well done again. May I add…

Ajhan Chah once said “meditation is like pulling a fish caught in a net when you go fishing in the sea. If you get too excited and pull the net too quickly the fish might escape. You have to gradually pull the net with care (with mindfulness) to catch it properly.

I read in a sutta that Buddha said, "Meditation is like trying to grab some oil floating on the water with your hand. If you try to grab it quickly, it will slip through your fingers. You need to very carefully grab it with the cup of your hand. It needs a lot of practice and effort".

The Buddha also said, "Those who are following the Way should behave like a piece of timber which is drifting along a stream. If the log is neither held by the banks, nor seized by men, nor obstructed by the gods, nor kept in the whirlpool, nor itself goes to decay, I assure you that this log will finally reach the ocean. If monks waling on the Way are neither tempted by the passions, nor led astray by some evil influences; but steadily pursue their course of Nirvana, I assure you that these monks will finally attain enlightenment."

Lots of good karma for your insightful posts. It helps all of us.

Dhamma81 said...


This is a great post. The Emerald Coast and its white sandy beaches and blue green water can be a metaphor for any of the pleasant and alluring things we tend to grasp at from time to time. It looks so inviting yet can be so dangerous. A point you made was that one can get out of a rip current if one doesn't fight agaisnt it. So many times we do unskillful things and rather then deal with the results with awareness we end up create narratives around them or fighting them which just sweeps us further out to the deeper darker waters of delusion.

Gary said...

Hi Kris.

Just got back from Bangkok and read this post - beautiful reflection. I loved the way you've drawn parallels between the natures of the Gulf's currents and the mind. Letting go and allowing awareness to 'drift' with the current of the mind is a wonderful image.


puthujjana said...

Gary, Justin, Dr. Walpola,

Thank you all so much for your generosity, support and encouragement! I’ve had numerous opportunities over these past few weeks to test my ability - and willingness - to drift with the currents. I must admit to being quite waterlogged! But very much alive and hopefully a tiny bit wiser.

I’m just beginning to recover from a bout with the flu, which definitely added an interesting and unexpected layer to the mix! Directly on the heels of that, my “retreat” will be ending with a house full of relatives staying with us over a long weekend. This is a semi-annual gathering and can be, well, “challenging” on many different levels. Ordinarily I would have been preparing (and fretting) in anticipation all week long. But those flu bugs, who decided to pay a visit first, helped me to see that all that worry had a lot to do with my own ego wanting to impress, and was really a huge waste of time and energy. And since they did such a great job of draining most of the energy I could muster, not much has been done. I have a sneaking suspicion that nobody will know the difference. :-)