22 Mar 2024

There is a wonderful Zen story that I use in my coaching practice that shows the power of beliefs can have over our actions.

It’s about a woman who wants to find a quiet place to meditate and decides to get in a boat and go out onto a lake. No one else is around so she is sure she will be able to have some peace and quiet to relax.

After five or so minutes alone on the lake, she notices in the distance another boat, but as it is so far away thinks nothing of it and continues to relax. Five minutes later she opens her eyes and is astonished that the other boat is now only a short distance away and seems to be heading straight for her. She becomes more agitated as it gets closer and starts to shout out loud at the boat to change direction as it gets closer and closer.

But it is too late, the boat rams directly into her boat and knocks her over. She stands up and says furiously, ‘Who disturbed me while I was meditating?!’ She is livid that someone would crash into her like that. She is ready to really let her anger out on the person who did this. However, the other boat was in fact adrift and empty!

The Parable of the Empty Boat teaches the importance of not letting our reactions be driven solely by appearances or assumptions. It illustrates how often we react to situations without fully understanding them, and how our perceptions can be clouded by our emotions. By recognising the emptiness of the other boat, the woman let go of her anger and stopped the conflict she had created. This parable encourages us to pause, observe, and respond with clarity rather than reacting impulsively based on incomplete information.

Life is full of empty boats, which we believe not to be empty and they are crashing into us throughout the day.

If she knew from the outset the boat was empty, there would have been no problem. But because she assumed the boat had someone in it she felt threatened or unhappy – she put herself in Purgatory.

Every time we get angry at something outside of us — a person, situation, circumstance — it is not the thing that is ‘making’ us angry. It is us doing that to ourselves. We believe the boat is not empty. But these things are all just Empty Boats. The anger is already inside us, ready at a moment’s notice — or the bump of a boat — to come out, ready for a fight.

So if your default mindset is the Empty Boat you are looking at the world through a calm positive, optimistic lens. The skill is to keep looking for the good side of life, look at the world as a good place and make the default boat an empty one.

Walking Back To Happiness: The Secret To Alcohol-Free Living & Well-Being shows you how I changed my story and found happiness and well-being and how you can to. Packed with over 70 exercises or steps you can take to improve your well-being and happiness, it’s a blueprint of how to live your best life!

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