Musings on Bicycling and Buddhism

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Manning the Tiller

I heard somewhere once that you get sea sick because you're at the whim of the waves. You're not in control and that helplessness is sickening. But the man (somehow it's almost always a man in the stories) at the tiller - the man steering the ship doesn't get sea sick. Why? Because he's steering the boat.

And I suppose life is like that.

Feel tired, overwhelmed? Want to avoid the things you used to love? At cross-purposes with yourself? "Won't everyone just leave me alone!" "Why do I have to keep being interrupted?" "I feel trapped in this place." "This doesn't feel like home anymore." "It's too loud here, I can't hear myself think." "I can't be myself here."

We live in an interconnected universe. Our very existence depends on others, and they on us - this inter-related dependence of life on life on life on the environment and back on forth is called dependent origination in Buddhism.

It doesn't have to mean we live at the whim of an arbitrarily cruel or kind universe. Buddhism says the opposite, that the universe is a cosmic life of infinite compassion, that we are as inherently part of as the cells that make up your body. Are you your cells or the amalgamation thereof or something more?

Grasp the Tiller

Even amongst this inter-dependency there is agency and responsibility. The person at the tiller of the ship cannot tell the sea what to do, the sea is too large, too beyond the power and comprehension of one life form, too expansive to be persuaded to change by one tiller.

Yet the person at the tiller guides the ship toward the goal in this environment. And in so doing does not fall prey to the whims of the waves, which themselves may not be helping in the transit to the goal.

The waves in between are just part of the journey, the goal is paramount. The control of the journey to the goal gives the tiller-operator agency and independence. The sea is still there, the waves that countermand the goal are still there - but operating with determination in an interdependent system makes for a journey of purpose, free from that one ill, seasickness.


We complain for all sorts of reasons. But what many of them come down to is that things are not how we would have made them. Much complaint comes from lack of responsibility or a feeling of not being in control.

No control? Make some goals - chart a course for your ship and pilot that great journey beyond your comfort zone.

It's always someone else's fault? Somehow things never go your way? People never really do what they say they're going to do, they never get it right. They don't get it?  Take responsibility. We're all interconnected. When one person stands up to take responsibility and makes goals, everything can change. This boat is carrying more than just one life you know.

Will you pilot your own ship?

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Tour de What You Will by Jessie Calkins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License