Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.
Having a two-year-old at home, I have been revisiting a vast array of children’s nursery rhymes, song, stories, and fairy tales. Most carry no real weight as vehicles of philosophy, but “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” caught me by surprise. As simple as the words may sound, each line could also be interpreted as a message about how to live life.
Here’s how I read it…
“Row, row, row your boat” = Participate and be active in your life (row). Don’t just sit there passively (row). Don’t let others call the shots (row). It’s your life (your boat).
“Gently down the stream” = But resist the urge to over-control, push, or force an agenda (row gently). Go with the flow of your life (down the stream), not against it. Be in the currents, but don’t spend all your energy fighting them.
“Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily” = Remember that how you experience your life has everything to do with perception, perspective, and interpretation. We each have our own core values, beliefs, assumptions, biases, and expectations that shape how we see the world, other people, and ourselves. We may not always realize it, but in this way, reality itself is highly personal and subjective. And with some effort, reality can also become a matter of choice. It can be miserable, even if you have it all; or it can be joyful (merry), even if you have nothing.
“Life is but a dream” = We take things so seriously, and we suffer so much, because we are committed to our struggles. We would do well to meditate on subjective reality and realize just how many of our struggles are actually illusions with no substance or solidity. The life we see is largely a fabrication of our minds (but a dream), for better or worse. The sooner we can see through these dreams, the sooner we can unravel suffering.