Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cast Off the Lines I

Scott Bradley

Cast off the lines
The great void awaits
A vast and empty sea.

I have been writing a lot of late about releasing into the vastness and this always brings to mind the sailboat tied to the dock by a web of lines. This is a potent metaphor for the human heart, bound as it is to the false comfort of imagined permanence. A great deal of the Daoist enterprise is to identify these lines so that we might be able to cast them off.

It is a well-worn adage that more boats and sailors come to grief in port than at sea. It is easy enough to see why this is so; boats that go to sea are generally prepared to do so, while those in port are more likely to be left to rot; and though crossing the bar may be dangerous, those on land are even more so. There is a certain prejudice with regards to sailboats that they should be sailing. This is natural enough considering the amount of effort and expense required to make them able to do so.

But can we say the same of human beings? Are they meant to cast off the lines and soar into the void? I don't think so. This is because I don't believe human beings are meant to do anything in particular. The invitation to cast off the lines is thus only for those who desire to do so. For most, the lines which tether also suffice to comfort. Still, the occasional day-sail can invigorate and inspire even those happily tethered.

In this metaphor of the boat secured to the dock, the dock might be understood to represent the 'fixed-identity'. This is the psychological state wherein we have taken possession of the life experience and imbued it with a sense of permanence. We believe ourselves to exist as discreet entities and our attachment to this entity, causes that we protect it from whatever might threaten it, whether with regard to its own self-importance or to the sting of death. This is entirely understandable given that we seem to have been cast into a void where we hunger for a permanence nowhere in evidence. Daoism suggests that, rather than looking for yet another dock to which to secure ourselves, we might embrace the void itself. However, this requires the abandonment of our most precious possession, the fixed, egoic self.

The 'lines' which Daoism identifies as attaching us to this false sense of permanence are well known. "Fame", "name", "gain", "debate", "dogma", "success", "conflict" — all these pursuits have but one end, to make us "someone", to reinforce the sense of a fixed identity. Those who feel inclined to experience unfixedness, are invited to consider how these lines are manifest in their own lives. This is largely an examination of motivations.

I suppose the next logical step in this essay is to discuss how these lines might actually be cast off. Were I able to give a definitive (and honest) answer, I would be a sage, which I am not. At best, I can only speak from my own limited successes, and these tell me that the examination of motivation is in itself an at least provisionally effective means. Understanding can be the beginning of transcendence.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading this.

    I don't know what to say other than that. Thank you for putting it out there.


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