14) Free Sex! Free Drugs! Free Gold Bars!!! And a rowboat…

Did you ever sing Row Row Row Your Boat?  Hey, I did too!  Did you realize that it held the Secret to Life?  Neither did I.

Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and others, showed us that our minds are not our own individual ‘things’, but rather, partake of, are shaped by, and continue to be influenced by mythic forces, the archetypes that repeat through our stories and show us common patterns of human experience, common struggles on the path to becoming Whole. As a result, we have preserved much ‘wisdom’ in stories, songs, rituals. Heck, maybe even nursery rhymes.

Row Row…. is kind of a weird song. But have you ever REALLY thought about it? Indulge me for one minute. Let’s see what it might have to say….

And don’t forget about the Free Sex, Drugs, and Gold Bars!! They’re important too. Obvi.
“Row row row your boat”
— first, Row. Don’t just sit in your boat and float around. Row! Take action. Without this, nothing follows. Life is blah, and you feel worthless. So, let’s sing it not once, but THREE times, just to drive the point home. Work is bloody important to Life, and takes up a pretty big chunk of it. Lao Tzu says that the only path to serenity is to “Do your work, then step back.” Yep. Row your boat. We’ll get to the “step back” part in a second….

Now, the boat is a common metaphor in spiritual writings and such, the vessel that takes us down the stream of life, or across the river to the “opposite shore” where enlightenment is to be realized, or perhaps, the afterlife where heaven is to be entered.

It’s worth noting that a boat is not “you”. It’s just a boat, a vessel that carries you around. When you get across the shore, you get out of the boat and leave it behind. Hmmm….that’s pretty cool, when I think of the vessel that I inhabit, but that is not “me”, and that I will leave behind eventually….Or, in the enlightenment framework, this is the understanding that “enlightenment” is not found in the words of the sutras, in any “understanding” that can be communicated. This is the usually-misunderstood Zen saying that if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him! It’s Lao Tzu, saying “the Tao that is the Tao is not the Tao.” The boat is just a tool, useful temporarily, but nothing to cling to and mistake for the Real.

It also means you can sing, with pride, “I’m onna boat…”


“Gently down the stream”
– Don’t row like a bat out of hell. (Ha! Images of rowing bats….lol…) Don’t strain. There is a better Way than trying to muscle upstream against the strong current. What if you point your boat downstream? It’s way easier to row eh? Adapt yourself to the currents that flow around you, and in harmony with the river, ahhhhhh, life is not as hard, and it’s much easier to be gentle.

Gentle means respectful. Not harming, injuring, abusing, being violent. Huston Smith describes it as “dancing” through life. He says (about Taoism), that the sage, by being flexible and harmonious, instead of rigid and hegemonic, is able to accomplish the tasks of life without excessive force or abruptness, force or violence, and ‘bickering and outward show’. The sage just does her thing, seamlessly integrated with the world.  Dancing. Rowing gently downstream.


“Merrily merrily merrily merrily”

This is pretty clear. Be merry. When you can. But not only that! Be merry, merry, merry and merry!. This is so damn important, we’re gonna sing it FOUR times!

How often are YOU “merry”? Like, really….how often? For me, not too often, I have to admit. I spend way more time being ‘earnest’ and ‘trying to do the right thing’, or being “compassionate” and considering the misfortunes of others, or being “depressed” and withdrawing into the void. Or I might be “striving”, to be more wise, to see more beauty, to attain deeper stillness…..so we’re back to being earnest….ugh….. Instead, you can be merry! My best moments are silly ones, where I laugh again like I’m 6.

Images of the Laughing Buddha come to mind here. Avatar Aang and Monk Gyatso making cakes and then air-bending them onto the meditating heads of the other monks….and laughing hysterically. Merrily!

But wait! Life IS serious, right? You HAVE to worry about stuff, right?


“Life is but a dream”

As a kid, you probably never thought too much about this line; hey nursery rhymes never make that much sense, right? So…whatevs.

But wait. What if it’s true? What if Life really is “but a dream”? Like, really really?  I  mean, the Buddha said so too….maybe he knew something?

Whoa…..I guess there’s not much sense getting all bent out of shape about stuff, getting overly attached to things being a certain way, to you being right or the best, to your group being better than “them”. And accept that Life is not always gonna make sense (cuz, you know…dreams….), random stuff is going to happen, threads of the story will get cut and lost forever; others will come in from seemingly nowhere. So….let go of expectations and enjoy the ride.

Go deeper. Dreams give you the FEELING that things makes sense, are meaningful, have lessons to teach you. But interestingly, when you dig into your dreams, it would appear that what you come up with is largely a projection, a picture comprised of a bunch of different bits that came together in the dream and that YOU ascribe some  meaning to.

But the meaning is not “in the dream”; it’s in yourself, and the dream is merely the canvas upon which your unconscious paints a picture. A weird ass, crazy picture that makes almost no sense, but in small chunks, at each point in time, it seems pretty sensible. It’s just that….things don’t connect in the way you expect. Hmmm….that sounds kind of like life…..

Go deeper. Dreams are emotionally influenced. If you’ve ever been extremely stressed, depressed, angry, horrified, you’ve probably noticed the changes in your dreams, if you pay attention to your dreams, that is. Hmmm….so, if Life is but a dream, then maybe Life is heavily influenced by our emotions?

I imagine Life like a Sea Of Potential, and what emerges out of this, what WE create or manifest out of this sea is, to a fair degree, driven by our emotions. This brings to my mind Avatar Korra entering the spirit realm, where anything can manifest, and it’s all about your emotions….

(Don’t take this too far and go all “The Secret” on us here….cuz that’s just batshit crazy; the universe doesn’t care how badly you want a Ferrari. So, think “self fulfilling prophecies”, not “the universe bends to my will”).

But wait! You can’t just be super chillzzzz all the time. Like, people are starving and there’s violence and orphans and cancer and dying oceans.

……yes, there are all these things.

So let me ask you — how would you FEEL if you turned your back on someone suffering? Versus if you helped them, gave them what you could, saw their grateful smile? Wouldn’t you FEEL differently? I mean, you’re not a total asshat. Right? You have deep caring in you. So, if you align yourself with what Is, then you’re aligning yourself with your authentic compassion and empathy.

To me this means that if the currents of life take you into Shitland where all the bad things are happening, then that’s where you are. Row that shitty boat! Don’t fight against the impossible, but work, within your context, to find the most gentle path that is available.

This unfolds into the principle of Ahimsa, or non-harming.

Go deeper. When dreams are over, they largely vanish and are mostly forgotten. Mostly. Their effects linger in subtle ways — maybe making certain thoughts more accessible, maybe conditioning our mood as we enter the day, maybe sticking a few symbols that knock around in our heads while we try to figure out what they mean. But we move on with our day, and are grateful if we can remember something positive about the dream, or feel we gained some sort of insight. Or it was just funny and weird.

It really helps to talk about your dreams.  Share what you got out of them.  And then, they don’t fade as quickly….


So we could teach kids this: Work, diligently, but kindly, gently. Go with the larger pattern, whenever doing so feels “right” in the deepest parts of your awareness. Enjoy the ride; be joyful! Don’t get too attached to anything, because evanescence is the rule.

“Meaning” is your own creation, so, you can let go of that too and realize true freedom.

Then, eventually, your life will end, and you will continue, subtly, affecting the world in ways the living cannot see.  Those who go before you, appreciate them, the many ways they gifted you.  Share that with people.

Yep, we could teach kids that. But it’s way more fun to sing.


P.S. Wait!!! What about all the free sex, drugs, and gold bars???? Oh…sorry about that…..but life does that all the time, doesn’t it? Empty promises of instant gratification. Maybe fun, sure, but if you pay too much attention to them, you’ll miss the song. 🙂

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