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  • Fe Robinson

Rowing your metaphorical boat

I popped into my kids school this week to talk to the Early Years and Key Stage 1 children about Spiritual Practice and Meditation. We had a blast, they were really engaged and interested, and asked some cracking questions.

One of the things we enjoyed was to ‘Row, Row, Row the Boat’, and then talk about the themes from this simple but powerful rhyme. I thought today I’d blog about it, because it is packed with potential meanings, and it’s a lovely example of how we can take anything and learn from it or be inspired by it really. The meanings I take from I sense are helpful for mental health as well as for living a good life spiritually.

Row, row, row your boat

Gently down the stream

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily

Life is but a dream

The first thing that speaks to me in this rhyme is the idea of rowing my boat. It’s active, it encourages a sense of agency and being able to have influence and impact. I can row my boat, I can make something happen. When I let life live through me, I am a part of all that happens, having my influence alongside everyone and everything else, without a boat and oars I can not row, without me rowing them they do not have the impetus I bring them, we are interconnected. I am not solely responsible and needing to row anyone else’s boat or take responsibility for the current and landscape, neither am I a helpless passenger with no control. The truth is always inter-dependence, we have rowing to do.

Next, an invitation to row gently, and to row down the stream. Not up it, against the flow, with the flow. And gently. This reminds me of the Aikido principle of moving with the energy that comes your way, of using it and recycling it, not resisting or opposing. It doesn’t mean being a push-over or always saying yes, or giving up and giving in, it simply means being in tune and sensing what is occurring and working with what is.

Then, merrily…our times over! I don’t take this to mean plaster a false smile on your face and pretend all is well, whatever would be the point of that? I like Deb Dana’s idea of finding glimmers. Looking for the small things that bring light and joy; the way the light plays on the hills, a flower unfolding, a scene that you find humour in, the rhythm of walking…whatever these things are for you, let them fill you up and bring a sense of calm joy into your way of rowing your boat. When noticing the positive does not feel right, focus on noticing the possible, what small things are doable from where you are, however difficult that spot is?

Finally, the idea that life is but a dream. Really it is. Anil Seth eloquently talks about the way we project our previous experiences onto what is happening now to make sense of it. In a way we perceive what we expect to perceive, and then make updates to our best guesses when experience turns out to differ from our projections. Our reality is what we perceive to be true, and it is different for each of us, and it is continually changing. Given this, it’s a good idea not to hold on too tight to our perceptions and views, or to let them go completely, but rather we can be light and graceful, knowing there will be continual change.

Phew…a lot packed in four short lines. I love the way meaning is self-constructed, it gives so much potential to learn and change. I’m interested to hear different reflections about what this short verse means to you, so do get in touch and let me know how our perceptions differ.


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