The following story is based on an old parable, which I have expanded to make a point about the damaging effects of negative thinking.
Two men are traveling to an adjacent town on business. One has a philosophical outlook on life, while the other is a lifelong worrywart.
The two men have decided to make the three-mile journey on foot, so they can enjoy the unexpected sunshine of a warm October day and benefit from some much-needed exercise. The philosopher wears a short-sleeved shirt, lightweight pants and comfortable shoes. He sports a pair of sunglasses. Despite the warm autumn weather, the worrywart is wearing a raincoat and a hat, and clutches an umbrella tightly in his hand. He distrusts meteorologists and worries about their predictions being wrong.
If the worrywart would trust his senses, they would tell him that this is not a short spell of freak weather. The sunshine looks certain to last. But he is too overwhelmed by negative thoughts to listen to the voice of intuition that often whispers to him. The constant buzz of negative static in his turbulent mind drowns out the voice of his long-ignored inner self.
When the two men reach the river that lies between them and the next town, they discover that a recent flash flood has washed away the only bridge across the river. The philosopher points to an outcrop of rock that extends out into the rushing river. He suggests that they walk to the end of the outcrop to get a better view, so they can figure out where to cross the swollen river.
The worrywart thinks this is a bad idea. “What if we fall in?” he asks.
“We’ll probably get wet,” replies the philosopher philosophically.
Reluctantly, the worrywart follows his phlegmatic companion onto the small peninsular, because he’s even more worried about being seen as a wimp than falling into the river.
Years of negative, pessimistic thinking have burned an extreme and unnecessary sense of caution into the worrywart’s mind, so he behaves accordingly. He creeps onto the outcrop as if walking a tightrope strung across Niagara Falls. Convinced that he will lose his footing at any moment, he reaches out and grabs the philosopher’s arm. This throws the philosopher off balance and both men tumble into the churning white water below.
The icy shock of the water immediately convinces the worrywart that he will freeze to death before he even has the chance to drown. But his unwarranted perception of the danger he is in has not diminished his ability to worry about trivia, so he clutches at his umbrella, worried that he might lose it in the swirling torrent. He then strikes out for the river bank, swimming frantically and awkwardly against the natural flow of the current.
The raincoat he didn’t need to wear becomes waterlogged and his flailing efforts to resist the tug of the river soon exhaust him. As he sinks beneath the rushing water and drowns, his last thought is about his appearance. He’s not wearing his best suit and worries that he won’t look good when they drag his body from the river.
While the worrywart’s anxiety is cutting short his stay on the planet, the philosopher has decided that it’s useless to fight the river. There’s no danger of his lightweight clothes becoming waterlogged, so he keeps his head above water and allows the river to take him where it will.
After throwing him around for a while, the easing current deposits the philosopher on a small sandy beach on the opposite bank. From this point it’s only a short distance into town. As he sits quietly on a rock, drying out in the warm sunshine, the philosopher thinks about the worrywart. Why is it, he wonders, that some people think so negatively about life that it can literally kill them?
The philosopher can’t think of an answer to that question so, being a philosopher, he shrugs, rises from the warm rock and goes into town to report the worrywart’s needless demise.
The Moral of the Story
Like most metaphors, this story is an oversimplification, but it still provides a useful analogy about life. If we continually harbor negative thoughts, we’ll struggle against life and fight its natural flow. That will make life unpleasant in a variety of ways.
Even if it doesn’t cut short our lives, negative thinking that manifests itself as worry will restrict our ability to pursue our true desires. It will reduce our potential to enjoy life to the full and be true to ourselves. We can learn something else from this story. If we focus our minds in the present moment, let go and follow the natural flow of life’s events, we will probably end up where we were meant to be in the first place.
Go With The Flow and Grow
The philosopher didn’t worry about where the river was taking him. He went with its natural flow and concentrated on his immediate need to keep his head above water and continue breathing. He trusted that the river would eventually deposit him somewhere safe. The worrywart drowned because he struggled against the natural flow of the river. Think of life as a river and go with its flow.
Once you have mastered flowing, there’s another step, which is to allow yourself to grow. Think about growing a favorite plant. Once you have placed a plant in the earth you need to water it and maybe give it some organic plant food. But it won’t grow and flourish if you worry about it and keep pulling it up to see if the roots are alright.
So as well as going with the flow, be like a plant and grow with the flow.
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