My partner and I have been kayaking up the Rio Grande from Cochiti Lake every summer for the last 15 years. The river has been progressively taking back the lake as water levels decline. Places we used to be able to get to by boat are no longer accessible. There’s one part of the river by Cochiti Canyon that has dried up entirely and is now solid land.

While paddling against the current, I often think of the Buddha’s words that the path he taught is about going against the stream. What he meant is that it takes effort to liberate ourselves from habits and conditioning. It’s hard work. If you’ve ever tried to quit an addiction you know what I mean. It requires dedication and determination, and another d-word: desire.

It’s ironic because the Buddha’s path is seemingly all about letting go of desire. Or is it? The Pali word used in the suttas is tanha, which has been translated as craving and sometimes as thirst. It’s the idea that what drives us in life is an unquenchable need that always leaves us searching for more and better. We can never be satisfied, at least for long.

Wholesome desire, on the other hand, is the kind of dedicated commitment that looks past immediate gratification and keeps its eye on the long-term benefit, the freedom at the end of the road. But it also appreciates the journey, even the difficulties, understanding that there are unexpected gifts along the way. Sometmes we don’t even see or know them except in retrospect.

As I’m paddling upstream, very slowly making progress, I’m surrounded by breath-taking natural beauty and wildlife. If I fail to take this in, I can feel frustrated and even angry at times about how hard I’m working and barely moving. But where am I going? Only further upstream to enjoy the beauty and silence there. I have to remind myself to look around. It’s right here, right now.

Joni Mitchell wrote a song back in the 70’s in which she sang “we don’t know what we got ’til it’s gone,” and “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” It’s as true today as it was back then. Even more so. We are living in the world that such short-sightedness gave rise to.

So I urge you to stop and look. Take in the beauty all around you. Witness this incredible miracle we call life. Witness your own life and the beauty inside you. Whatever problems or difficulties you may be having, put them aside for a moment and focus on the blessings in your life. Breathe deeply and allow them in with your breath.

Then as you release your breath, send compassion to yourself for the ways in which you may be suffering. Be especially kind to that part of you. And then send compassion and kindness to the rest of the world, too.

And keep paddling!

I hope this was helpful, and would love to hear from you either way. Post a comment or share this on Facebook.