At the Zen Meditation workshop last weekend, one of the anecdotes that Tim shared was the raft parable that Buddha used to describe his teachings.

Essentially, the teachings are the raft that take you across the dangerous waters of the river to the safety of the shore. One you’ve reached the shore, the raft is no longer useful. It’s senseless to carry the raft with you along your path.

The river represents the suffering that is inherent in life, and the raft is the path to reduce this suffering. The point of the story was to illustrate that the teachings themselves are not the Truth and should not be fixated upon as such.

I understand the parable, though I still have a lot to learn about this philosophy. I think it’s applicable to any philosophical or religious doctrine – including yoga. The teachings are practical instructions to help you along your path toward less suffering.

I had a question about the river itself.

“Do you ever find yourself back in the river?”

I was relieved to hear him say, “Yes! All the time!”

I find myself back in the river A LOT. The rides get shorter, have less rapids and come equipped with a life vest, but it still happens.

Today I attended a short workshop with Clifford Sweatte, student and friend of David Williams and one of the first American Ashtangis. Clifford told some great, entertaining stories of Sri K.Patthabhi Jois, Manju Jois, and the early days of Ashtanga in the United States and beyond.

He briefly discussed the Eight Limbs and touched on taking the practice off the mat and into the world, the importance of what you do with the practice – how you live it.

Again, I thought of the raft parable.

Life is a series of ups and downs. The ups are good, but they’re always countered with the downs. I think we would all agree that the downs suck something awful. Whether we choose the roller coaster ride or find ourselves unwilling passengers, the goal is to apply the principles of the practice to lessen the extremity of the situation.

It’s easier said than done, and yet I frequently see how my yoga practice has changed how I go about living my life. And then…I mess up. I lose my temper; I act selfishly; I’m motivated by the wrong things at the wrong times for all the wrong reasons.

But, life can be so rich and wonderful, sometimes I want to indulge. Conversely, life can be so devastating and frustrating, and sometimes I want to indulge in that too.

Usually, I’m pretty hard on myself for those indulgences, so it was comforting to hear Tim confirm that it happens to us all. I forget that. I forget that people on a philosophical or religious path are there not because they’ve already figured it out and perfected it, but because they haven’t!

The good news is, the raft (or the mat) is always there to welcome us and take us back across the river.