Swans (written 2018)
“Alert to the needs of the journey, those on the path of awareness, like swans glide on, leaving behind their former resting places.” Dhammapada verse 91
So much to reflect on here. It may be that time is a human creation, the dates on the calendar, the numbers on the clock, but it is created as a way of measuring change, which is inevitable. The seasons, the days, the hours, and so much that is contained within them. What I hear in the words of this verse is a reminder to be aware of the forward momentum of life and time, such that moment by moment we “glide on”. But the verse also sets a task along the way: for each of us to “be alert to the needs of the journey”. What a lot is contained here. What do we leave behind and what do we take with us? What is needed in each moment?
Life requires that we move on sometimes in a physical and external sense, leaving behind former homes, places we've “rested” and been comfortable, whether they be towns or jobs or relationships or other commitments. But for me this verse points to an inner journey, the sense in which we are always moving on internally. We are continually abandoning that which has been comfortable and known, the person we think ourselves to be, and making new discoveries, taking new initiatives and risks, reaching beyond what we have known. If we are alert to the needs of the journey.
Sometimes we're not. Sometimes we are asleep. Moving through moment by moment, day by day of our lives, doing what we have always done, rocked gently in the cradle of habit, neither seeing nor choosing those moments of freedom between habitual reaction and answering response. This is the message I read here.
Being alert to the needs of the journey, we learn to ask important focusing questions over and over: How are things for me right now? What is happening for me right now? What would be a skillful response to what life is offering in this moment? Where is this current path taking me? If I follow this thought into action, what will the consequence be? Am I moving in the direction of harmony, happiness, non-harm? Swans are beautiful and regal creatures. They move in the water gracefully, with ease They glide. And in this image, they do not linger in former resting places that do not meet the needs of the journey.
If you work with mindfulness even a little, you soon learn about the struggle. Moving on should not be mere movement from restlessness, but movement chosen in a direction that is wholesome and skillful. Staying in place, maintaining a habitual response, should be a settling where there is value, not stagnating from fear of the unknown. It isn't always easy to tell the difference.
Outside forces may suggest or provoke change, but often the nature of that change in terms of the inner journey is up to us and the work we do, the skillful effort we put in. I may be forced by circumstances to move on from homes, relationships, jobs, places. It happens to all of us. Maintaining balance of mind and heart is primary so I keep my eyes open and alert, gliding on.