Paddle Your Own Boat


Life is not a struggle, if you paddle your own boat.

Yet this is often precisely what it becomes, due to our inability to go with the flow. We buck, kick, scream, fight—and end up in bad places.

This happens from a fundamental misunderstanding about how we are ‘supposed’ to be living our lives. The two choices are:

  • complain and do nothing
  • accept and act

The first one is the troublesome one. In this version of reality, I distress myself over some situation (the water running downstream,) and decide to change the external situation.

Now, what I’m doing here is judging.

Judging is something we all do, and certain ways of doing it do not work.
What doesn’t work is to make a picture of how an external situation ought to be, and then expend great effort trying to force the external reality to match the imaginary version in your head.

This is the root cause of most conflict. It is also nonsensical, as demanding that something change begs the question, why would someone or something change just because I want it to?

Typically, this is where we get into the odd duo of, “It’s not fair,” and “If you loved me…” (variant, “I’m special so you should do it my way.”) Both of these describe the notion that the world is actually paying any attention to you at all.

We’ve endlessly suggested that you paddle with the stream. By this we mean that the wise person does not fight the crowd (the current) or make demands of the crowd, but rather follows the path or direction that actually works.

Now, notice that I did not say, “Follow the crowd.” I said, “Follow what works.”

This is never about going along with things you judge to be wrong, stupid, or harmful. This is about steering a path away from such things.

In order to do this, it is essential to remember that you will have to keep your focus on yourself. By this, I mean that you need to uncover what you think and feel about the situation, without blaming or finger pointing.

Then, you ask yourself, “What, specifically, can I do to alter my relationship with this situation,in order to move in a direction I want to go?”

This can appear tricky, so let me try this. Most people never do a single thing to improve the situation they are complaining about. They just stand there and blame the situation, (or person) and get sad, indignant, angry, whatever. Or, they sigh and say, “Oh well, I give up. So, I’m just going to sit here.”

The approach we are suggesting is this: step up to the plate. Drop all the self-righteous judgments and demands that the world and others change, and instead, change yourself.

There is always something I can do to change the direction I’m taking with a situation I am confronting—something that requires nothing of the situation. And this makes sense, as situations never change until you do. This is just the way it is.

Is it fair? Well, imagine a universe where the rules changed arbitrarily, at your whim, and also at the whim of others. (You didn’t think this would only work for you, right???) We’d be insane in short order. No, it’s best that “the way it is, is the way it is.” Until we act.

We can walk away, act differently, simply observe, calm ourselves.

Any of these approaches will instantly change the only thing you can change—your relationship to the situation.

Your job is never to get others to see the error of their ways. Your job is to see the error of your ways.

Even parents do not make their children to do anything. They simply create an environment that demands compliance with social norms. Once the kid is 6 or so, they pretty much can do what they want to, and only social pressure keeps them sort of in line. Once they are adults, they act as they act. It is called being an adult.

You may be tempted to avoid this idea by thinking, “But, people will do all sorts of weird and selfish things with this idea.” Here’s a hint, if you go there.

This is not about “people.” There are no “people.” That’s just you, coming up with another excuse not to act. There is no way to pre-determine what ‘people’ will do.
The only question is, “What will you do?”

Let go of the bitching, moaning and complaining and get on with what you need to do. Stop tilting against the windmill of other people’s drama, and deal with your own. Act like a self-responsible adult by doing the only thing you can—act responsibly.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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