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Imagine, if you will, a man who lives next to a mighty river. Every morning, this man gets in his boat and paddles out to the middle of the water. There he keeps paddling and paddling, fighting against the current to stay still. During his day of paddling, the man’s mind would wander to other parts of his life, and he would find sometimes that he had worries. When he would worry, the man would find a small branch or a twig floating in the water and he’d pick it up and put it in his boat as a reminder to himself about what was worrying him. At the end of each day, he’d paddle back to his house on the riverside, tie up his boat and then collapse into sleep in it from the exhaustion of the day’s exertions.

A man who lived on the other shore, would also take his boat out in the water every day. But instead of fighting the current, he floated along the river. As he floated, his mind would wander to other parts of his life, and he would find sometimes that he had worries. When he would worry, this man would also find a small branch or twig floating in the water. He’d look at it as he considered his worries, but then he’d throw it back into the river and let it float away. At the end of each day, he’d paddle home, live his life and dream sweetly in his sleep.

Day after day, both of these men would take their boats out on the river, one slowly filling with sticks and branches, the other floating freely. The day soon came when the boat with all the twigs was filled so much that the man couldn’t see the river for all the sticks. But he kept going out on the water, worrying and collecting branches until his boat became so overwhelmed that he sank and drowned. The second man lived out his long days floating and free and dreaming sweetly.

The man who drowned was me. I held onto my worries like my life depended on it. I fought against life trying to collect and control every little thing that caused me concern. These worries mounted and compounded, weighing me down, not letting me sleep unless I was physically and mentally exhausted. My worries, my anxiety, eventually overwhelmed me. I couldn’t function.

I thought that by collecting my worries I’d be able to control what was going to happen to me. By hanging onto my concerns, I actually increased the amount of worry and anxiety I felt. I became used to feeling worried and anxious all the time. Even when I didn’t have something to worry about, I’d become anxious – I was worrying about not being worried. I was caught in a cycle that dragged me down continuously.

Fighting against life, trying to keep everything under my control, was debilitating and exhausting. I fought against change, thinking if I could keep things staying the same, I could better control my life. Now, it’s clear to me that this was madness. Life, like the river, moves on whether we want to go along for the ride or not. Trying to fight that movement was never going to work, it would only hurt me.

This was a difficult lesson for me to learn. And now I’m learning to be the man in the other boat. Rolling with the ebbs and flows of life, taking notice of worries as they pass by and then letting those fears go, this is how I’m trying to live my life. A worry can be a source of knowledge for us, letting us know that we need to take action in some way, but it’s nothing we should hang onto.

Like our thoughts and emotions, worries are parts of life that come and go. We need to pay attention to them, and give them their due, but then we need to let them go. Every day changes, every day brings a new perspective and new opportunities for us. It’s healthy for us to float along life’s river, feeling the tosses and bounces, noticing what passes by, learning where we can and doing what we think is right. Letting go of our worries is part of that experience and will allow us to live more wholly and fully in the present moment.

Jason Large,

Daily Zen.

Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over twenty years. He can be contacted at: