Life is but a dream

“Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.”

This is my all-time favorite rhyme. Although it’s considered a children’s song, it is packed with meaning and inspiration for us big kids too!

Over the years, several different metaphors and meanings have been ascribed to this ditty. Following is my own take on these four wonderful lines.

The boat

The boat signifies this body, the transitory home to one’s pure awareness. It is the vessel for moving, learning, and growing. The body serves as the basis through which we can actualize our full potential and realize the true nature of our mind and the universe. How marvelous!

If you look around, you will notice that humans are far outnumbered by the millions of other beings on this planet. Just the number of insects in a big pile of dirt is enormous. In my spiritual tradition, this is the logic behind the belief that it is extremely rare and also precious to be born a human.

Why precious? Because – unlike animals – humans have the awareness and intelligence that can bring about complete personal transformation. We can train our being in limitless love, kindness, compassion, and equanimity. We can learn to let our wisdom mind shine forth.

But a human life isn’t thought to be particularly special if it’s wasted on materialistic pursuits alone. It only becomes unique when we recognize the extraordinary spiritual opportunity it provides to us.

Now, you may not believe in reincarnation, and that’s OK. But the main point to extract from all this is to recognize and appreciate the tremendous opportunity this lifetime holds. You never know when or if you will have the chance of a lifetime again. Afterall, death is real and comes without warning.

So, as the saying goes, make hay while the sun shines. Don’t waste this precious opportunity! Celebrate every moment and use this life for the highest purposes. At the same time, be sure to take good care of your boat – it is a precious vehicle.

Row, row, row

Without rowing, your boat won’t move – will it?

It may end up stuck on the shore, swept violently along by turbulent flows, or crashed to bits over a waterfall. Reaching your destination requires effort, discipline, and clarity of direction.

Distractions abound – don’t let them pull you off your course. At the same time, hold your destination lightly in mind and heart. Stay open. The universe may hold entirely different possibilities for you! Don’t be so tightly focused on one destination that you miss your true path.

Rowing may require effort, but it doesn’t have to be a struggle. When you have a glimpse of the mystery and magic all around you, diligence is naturally infused with joy.

Gently down the stream

Pushing too hard only creates stress, tension, and illness. As popular wisdom tells us, “Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.” The stream of life passes magically before us. Enjoy the fullness of the moment as it streams by. Don’t cling to the past. Just let go!

Merrily, merrily, merrily

Attitude is everything. A gentle, playful spirit will magnetize positivity and good results.

Chances are suffering and challenges will arise on the journey. Use them well. With the right perspective, they will fuel personal evolution. Persevere in choosing joy, whatever comes your way.

Life is but a dream

Life is often likened to an illusion – a dream, a magic show, a visual aberration, a mirage, an echo, a reflection. All that arises in our mind and in the world around us appears yet is empty of inherent existence.

In The Words of My Perfect Teacher, the illustrious 19th century spiritual master Patrul Rinpoche explains how it is when you come to taste the dreamlike quality of reality:

“…objects that appear to it [the mind] do not stop appearing, but the concepts that take them as having any true existence subside. To leave the mind in the realization of the nature of reality, empty yet clear like the sky, is transcendent wisdom.”

Although the world continues to appear before us, and thoughts and emotions continue to arise in the mind, you recognize their transitory, ephemeral nature. When you gradually take to heart the illusory quality of existence, joy, ease, wonder, and spaciousness bubble up inside.

At the same time, a sense of universal responsibility awakens within as you come to observe and appreciate the truth of interdependence. You understand that your actions matter. They have an effect, positive or negative. Understanding this and knowing that negative actions harm you too, you act for the better of all. In fact, compassion naturally pervades your every thought and deed when you hold this profound view of reality lightly in your heart.

The brilliant 14th century spiritual master Longchenpa wrote these beautiful words to capture the unceasing play of emptiness and appearance.

“Since things neither exist nor don’t exist,
are neither real nor unreal,
are utterly beyond adopting and rejecting –
one might as well burst out laughing.”

Imagine what the world would be like if we all adopted such a carefree yet compassionate view of life!

What meanings do you find in this 4-line “children’s” rhyme? Is there another rhyme that resonates meaning and inspiration for you?

Please Note: This is a guest post by my dear and wise friend Sandra Lee from Always Well Within.
About the Author: Sandra Lee writes about living an awake, authentic, happier and healthier life on her personal development blog Always Well Within. Her articles offer a unique blend of personal transformation, wellness, ecology, and essential wisdom to help you realize your best self and be part of creating a better world.You can keep up with her by following her on Twitter @AlwaysWellWithn

Thank You Sandra for sharing your beautiful wisdom here!
With Immense Love and Gratitude,

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23 thoughts on “Life is but a dream

  1. The only rowing you’re going to do down a stream is to keep the boat upright, away from snags, and facing down steam. The current will take you downstream.
    Go with the flow, But be mindful.

  2. This is a great post. Not only do we get a fresh perspective on a familiar rhyme (who knew it was the perfect metaphor for happy living? Not me), we get awesome quotes from teachers past. Bravo!

  3. I loved this article on many levels. It will be sure to bring many break thru’s to those who can hear and see its depth.

    The row boat doesn’t only have to embody the physical body. We can become our immediate environment and neighborhood …… and the planet its self. It too is our body on other levels. Its just going to take some bigger strokes to flow gently out of the eddies of life.

    When one comes into full alignment with one’s Being, when one shines bright from their soul, when one flies with spirit,……..the sweet spot of the stream is accepted. No more rowing is then necessary. There is no more fear of getting stuck in currents, or crashing upon rocks, or overturning one’s boat to get lost in the deep psyche of its waters.

    Through the experiences of having good attitudes….one begins to realize that we create our own moods. Nothing is then by chance. We can then invite the feelings and the experiences in this one moment instead of being dealt the unresolved feelings of fate.

    When we realize that life is a dream….we step into degrees of lucidity and begin stepping out of other peoples dreams to then have our own dreams come true. The illusion is therefore no longer taken seriously, and we begin to float easily with our selves, bringing before us the reflections of the life we truly were designed to Live.

    !Beautiful Article Sandra! You can see very well beneath the surface.

    1. Thank you, Bern. What a lovely idea to see the boat as a metaphor for our community or even the planet. There are, indeed, many ways to interpret this rhyme. As you point out, it is very profound.

      I agree, we are what we think, we do create our own moods. It can take some dedicated time and patience to change the habits of mind, but it is possible. And the more we do this, the more fluent we become at changing our moods and transforming difficult emotions.

      The whole idea of stepping out of other people’s dreams is an interesting one. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your deep and heartfelt insights. It’s nice to connect with you.

  4. A warm thank you to Zeenat for the special opportunity to write a guest post for her blog and connect with all of you. I’ve received so much inspiration, joy, and encouragement from Zeenat and Positive Provocations, it’s an honor to be a part of the flow here.

    1. HI Sandra,
      Dearest Sandra,
      I must thank you 🙂 And the pleasure is all mine. I so love your words…and all that you share on you blog. You being here and sharing a part of your wisdom makes me very happy. I can already see how much the readers are loving your presence 🙂
      You are welcome to come here and share more of yourself in the future too …
      This is turning out to be quite a lovely discussion na. Who knew a children rhyme(my little girls favorite one) could hold such deep meaning.
      I agree with Bern..that you certainly know how to see beyond the surface. That my dear is a gift 🙂
      Immense gratitude for sharing your words here sweetie 🙂
      Much Love~

  5. Pingback: Life is but a dream – guest post at Positive Provocations « Always Well Within

  6. vaidehi

    this is beautiful.i am touched.thank you for sharing these beautiful thoughts . makes me just let go off everything and feel light as ever! god bless.

    1. Thank you for taking a moment to say such kind words of appreciation! It makes me happy to know that the post had such a wonderful, lightening effect on you. Stay well always!

  7. Sandra,
    I love your view of this wonderful rhyme!

    And this idea of being born to a human life…and how rare and beautiful that is….mmmm….such good, good stuff! And when we fully realize that, when we let that thought deeply soak into our soul…I believe it gives our life here (now) a more meaningful existence.

    And that’s a boat I very much want to be rowing…

  8. Hi Lance,
    So nice to hear your uplifting words. It’s wonderful to see how open and receptive you are to the idea of the human life being so rare and precious. I love how you phrased what it means to embrace this and how ” …it gives life here (now) a more meaningful existence.” Thank you for taking the time to comment.

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  10. Hi Sandra

    Oh this was fantastic! I love how you took that simple nursery rhyme and brought out such profound messages and lessons from it.

    I so resonate with it all, the boat, the rowing, the gentleness….

    Life is a dream, and a beautiful one at that and it is always so good to share in that message 🙂

  11. I often reflect upon Humpty ~ Dumpty who had a great fall, and how all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put Humpty ~ Dumpty back together again.

    I see this rhyme as very dis-empowering for those who chant it, and who do not investigate its hidden message yet further.

    Firstly, who is Humpty ~ Dumpty. At a deeper level, we are all Humpty ~ Dumpty. It is yin and yang, as in see and saw. One has been lost in polarity where the mirrors have distorted our true reflection and we have become separated into seemingly infinite pieces. Egg shells and fragments of us are everywhere.

    The king, who we have given our power away to, has no interest in making us whole. The King is a fragment of the egg that broke. It wants dominion over the other fragments so that they can not find the king in them selves.

    Not even the king’s horses or even the king’s men couldn’t apply the power to make Humpty ~ Dumpty whole again. It is therefore beyond the power of others to make us whole again.

    Is this a hopeless scenario then. Are we all doomed or damned. No!

    We have the power to put our fragments back together again to make us whole once more. We can reclaim ourselves and can become our own king and queen. We have to take responsibility to reconstitute our fragmented souls.

    Through reintegration, we can become that egg……that seed….that gives birth to a whole new universe and way of being. When we finally gather up all the pieces, we can germinate and unfold like a blooming flower, where Humpty ~ Dumpty will touch once again the source of its power from its center point, between the hump and the dump where wholeness reigns pure.

  12. Bernie, I absolutely love your reinterpretation of Humpty Dumpty. You are so right on about how some of these children’s songs and rhymes can be so disempowering, but then others so empowering.

    Being fragmented is truly the challenge in modern society. But we can bring the mind home and be whole again.

    Thanks ever so much for sharing your tale of wisdom with us.

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