The River of Life
Life is like a river. The river of Life.
It was a quiet evening. The birds had just stopped chirping their noisy good nights. Little stars struggled to twinkle through the fading twilight as a gentle breeze started blowing over the river.
I continued to stare in silence, lost in contemplation, seated on one of the few undamaged benches on the Strand. For the uninitiated, the Strand is one of the relics from an era gone by, a strip of a paved walkway, facing the Hooghly river, one of the many tributaries of the river Ganga.
Built by French settlers who colonized Chandannagar, the Strand is where one strolls lazily, to bide time, enjoying jhal-muri, chana-sing and a lovely view of the river, as it lazily inches forward, on the final step in its journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal.
Chandannagar. Home to my heritage. My parents. And my roots.
I had lost my father a few months back, and had decided to visit to find solace and peace for him and myself, reliving his experiences as he grew up.
As I sat there, in deep thought, I heard a gentle step treading softly up to where I was seated.
I looked up to perceive an old man, uncannily similar in appearance to my father, except that he sported flowing white hair and an equally white unkempt beard, looking at me with kind, soulful eyes.
I immediately stood up, to offer him the seat. But he gestured toward me to remain seated and instead asked me if I would mind sharing the bench with him.
I had no objections and soon we got talking.
‘Why are you here?’ he asked.
I told him that I was contemplating the meaning of life, about how it is so unpredictable, about how loss is so difficult to come to terms with, about how there is so much sadness in our existence, about how joy, when present, is so short lived.
‘Life is a river and the river is life’ he said as he stared at the river stretching across in front of him.
This puzzled me. So I asked him to explain.
He continued ‘You see, life is like a river. One day you are born high in the mountains and some day you will reach the end… merge back into where you came from.
What you have in between is your life.
You are a boatman on this river. You hold the rudder, but the funny thing is this boat cannot be steered by you. You think you can, but it is controlled by a force greater than any human alive.
At the source of the river, the water flows and gushes with ferocity. You are young, inexperienced and enthusiastic in your false belief that the path taken by the boat is determined by you. So you fight the rudder. You push the oars with all your might. You struggle to gain control. Before you know it, you have crossed the rapids and descended to the plains.
This is your youth. In the belief that you control your destiny, you have missed some of the most beautiful parts of your journey. You have failed to see the breathtaking vistas or smell the fresh unpolluted air in your obsession to steer the boat, which has at the end of the day, reached the very same position it was meant to.
By the time you realized it, it was too late. Your youth was over. And you were left only with regret. Regret at not having done more. Regret at what could have been, but wasn’t. Regret at the fact that those days will never come back.
As you proceed further down the river, you cross more and more towns, each distinct in its identity. All these towns have two banks. A developed bank, bustling with activity, people, life and an undeveloped one dominated by marshy land, overgrown with weeds. You perceive the town to be good or bad, positive or negative, depending on which side you look at.
These towns represent incidents that you experience in your life. The banks are your perspective on them. What comes your way in the journey of life are only incidents, happenings without any inherent attributes. It is only the bank you look at which defines your experience of these. Positive or negative, it depends on your perception. You cannot control the next town you will float by, but you can control which bank you want to look at. And that will define whether the incident you experienced is positive or negative.
Eventually you reach the mouth of the river. Where everything has slowed down and you have slowly, but surely accepted your destiny, that of making peace with the world and meeting the maker.
As you move slowly towards the mouth of the river, you reflect on your journey, the sights, the views, the experience.
And this is where your focus will define your life for you. Have you lived it to the full?
Remember… every incident that affects you, is an opportunity for you to accept it and make the choice. Choose to be happy and you will. Choose to be unhappy and you will. You have no control over the journey, but you have control over how you perceive it. And this perception will be the bank of memories which will accompany you in the last steps you take.
Happiness and Sorrow are all in the mind. If your attitude is correct you will find happiness in the most sorrowful of situations and if not, you will find a reason to be unhappy in the most positive of situations.’
As I reflected on these words a weight lifted from over my shoulder. I was focusing only on the negatives. I was unhappy because I chose to be. After all, misery loves company. I had a lot to be thankful for, a lot to be happy about, a lot to celebrate, yet I spent my time wishing for things to be different. Things I had no control over. Things that were external to me.
That’s when the realization dawned on me that looking for happiness in the external, was akin to looking for sunlight in the middle of the night. One can never find it, because one is looking in the wrong place. Happiness has been inside me all the while. I just chose to ignore it earlier.
As my mind cleared I looked up to see that the old man had disappeared. I was alone under a clear starlit night.
But I wasn’t lonely. I wasn’t sad.
I was peaceful and happy.
Because I chose to be.
This article first appeared on http://spiritual-cruiser.com. Reproduced with permission.