We Don’t Need to Push the Log Back in the Water.
I sometimes go to a certain beach, and every time I do the same man is there. He spends the entire day pushing beached logs back into the ocean.
I watch him struggle for hours on one log. He continually pushes it out against each wave that crashes in—and I often giggle to myself, realizing he is the representation of samsara.
It takes this man an afternoon to get one log unstuck. When he does he jumps on the log and straddles it like a canoe, rides it for a few minutes, jumps off, comes back to shore and repeats the cycle again. He is continually choosing a patterned experience of life—one requiring a great amount of effort and not much result.
I am uncertain what this man’s purpose is, but “savior of the shipwrecked” comes to mind.
Here at this beach is a Buddhist lesson to wake me up.
Samsara in Buddhism refers to the repeated cycle of death and rebirth with no consciousness of how to step beyond it. It is the expression of delusion and being caught in a patterned existence of suffering.
This man doesn’t seem like he’s having a lot of fun, but he has become my teacher.
Stuck in the cycle of samsara, we become exhausted without moving forward. The only thing this dance appeases is our egoic belief in fulfilling some sort of role.
I’ve had to ask myself, What role am I still caught in that’s creating useless struggle?
I am, after all, at the same beach again and again—and I’m perpetually on the hunt for something new (usually the perfect partner).
What kind of belief system was that dream born in? Once again, the world around me is my mirror, and I realize I have been choosing to suffer.
I notice that in my focus on the man, I had ignored the role of the log.
The ironic thing about the log is that it most likely doesn’t want to be back in the sea. After floating in the open ocean for so long, I suspect it craves grounding. Just like us, it may have been searching for years—and decided it needed some rest.
Sometimes it’s nice to land on a beach, to stay put for a while and take in the surroundings of just one place. In fact, it’s necessary.
It begins to upset me to see this man pushing each log back in the water. I want to yell—
“Let them be.”
“They know what’s best for them!”
It’s not easy getting ourselves up onto solid ground. It takes a lot of big swells and constant riding of unpredictable waves for us to eventually discover something more concrete.
“Don’t take their hard work away from them,”
I want to shout. They’re wisely resting until the next big storm.
And so this too is reflected in our own lives. We are closer relatives to nature than we realize, and a deeper, more natural flow is available than the one we often force.
For whenever we push against the reality of life, we will always suffer. Why not sit back for a bit and watch the waves roll in on their endless cycle, and rather than get caught up in them, observe their crashing from a sandy shore?
To be stuck in samsara means to be continually consumed in a blind battle. This victory-less war is indicative of our mind, which does not understand the flow of natural order.
In Buddhism, we work on bringing our focus to things other than the mind—like our bodies, their weight, the breath inside them and our posture—in order to release ourselves from our previous patterns of reaction.
The Sanskrit word for these habitual behaviors is samskaras (sam meaning “joined together” and skara meaning “action” or “doing,”) and are built on our tendencies and karmic impulses—the very patterns we came back here to heal.
As I watch this man do his karmic work on the beach, I can’t help wonder what he’s attempting to heal—perhaps the idea that to live we must struggle?
Often the best way for us to release ourselves from these patterns is to do something radically different and completely opposite—like rest.
Some people still need the cycles of samsara filled with its many samskaras, but perhaps others just need the permission to be—to ride the waves onto the beach for a while, to sit in stillness and contemplate what came before, to release our old stories and to eventually get bored enough to feel fully ready to be carried off by the next wild storm.
Author: Sarah Norrad
Image: Sarah Norrad on Instagram
Editor: Toby Israel