Life: Journeying along white water rapids in a rubber dingy
Before delving into the metaphor posted in the title of this piece, which I’m sure your mind is already having fun with, take a moment to just reflect on the story you call My Life. As Ali ibn Abi Talib questions, “min ayn? ila ayn? fi ayn? (where have you come from? where are you now? where are you going?)”.
Let us skip the rational justification of a Creator, who created from His mercy and love, so that His creation would soar towards Him through perfecting one’s self, and bettering society around him or her, through submission to God’s guidance. Instead, let us marvel at the elaborate nature of this journey called life. It is important to begin with an often misconstrued question – what is the opposite of death? Life! I hear you respond automatically. Yet it is birth that is the antithesis of death, meaning that life, once blessed with it, has no opposite in reality, allowing the notion of the hereafter to become a much more real and infinite concept.
Picture a white-water rapid, gushing forth with water, calm at some stages and violent at others. With its dips and turns, moments of fright and ecstasy, lows and highs, all making up this journey from start to, let’s not call it a finish, but instead a stream of tranquil waters which flow for eternity. As you approach the water-filled voyage, which is steered by banks of trees, rocks, and plantation, know that it is just you in your rubber dingy to face the tumultuous ride.
Life, through the lens of the depiction above, is much alike when we take a step back. The scary, rough moments when you feel like you may capsize are akin to the tests we face in life: disappointment, anger, bad health, loss of a loved one etc. Similarly, those moments of thrill, fun, and peace are mirrored by success, celebration, knowledge, contentment and so on. However, when picturing yourself journeying along that water rapid, you didn’t catch yourself unduly stopping to worry, procrastinate or celebrate, rather, you saw yourself just taking things in your stride, far more grateful for the experience for what it is and interested in the destination you were heading towards.
Without those scary, rocky moments how would you appreciate the calm waters? Without those instants of thrill and excitement, where would the motivation be when things were plain sailing? What I’m really trying to say is, take each moment in life as just a step in a much longer journey which has a definite peaceful abode. “O my people! This life of the world is only but a (passing) enjoyment, and indeed the Hereafter is the abiding home” (Quran 40:39).
The bumps along the way are there to shape you (the real inner you, the soul), and not the rubber dingy (the body) which really is just a vehicle to get you through the water rapid. “We will test you with good and ill by way of test” (Quran 21:35). Like the feeble rubber dingy, we as humans are very sensitive to things that can harm us, and when this happens we need to show resilience and strive forward on our journey to God.
Taking the metaphor a little further, those external factors such as the trees, wind, sun, rocks and what have you, are all the intricate factors in your life which at times pose a burden and at other times are a blessing, but often we don’t recognise them for what they truly are. For example, the very wind which may make the water spray in your face along the rapid, is also the same wind that gives you momentum when you need it. Correspondingly, the loss of a loved one may well be heart-breaking, yet the very thing to catalyse you to be grateful for and make the most of your own life before it is over (in this world). Whatever juncture in the water rapid you’ve reached, be assured there is a reason and lesson to be taken, and likewise in life, God has your best interest in it.
If you remove yourself further, and consider that whilst you picture and observe yourself in the rubber dingy, coasting along the water rapid, able to see the path ahead, all the time your imagination ensuring that yourself doesn’t capsize altogether, you are effectively imitating God in the metaphor. Not wishing to equate us to God by any means, but rather, comparing the vantage point of the observer to that of the All-Knowing, All-Seeing Creator. This gives one the assurance that God will test you, but not with more than you can handle, and with His infinite wisdom, does so to draw out the best in you and to develop growth towards Him.
Allah does not task any soul beyond its capacity. Whatever good it earns is to its own benefit, and whatever evil incurs is to its own harm.”
In the end, the short-lived water rapid, with all its twists and turns, is simply a means to educate and perfect the one who traverses it with faith. Once the final, infinite and calm abode of the ever-flowing stream is reached, the rubber dingy no longer becomes necessary and the “you” is free to bathe in harmony with the source of life.
The Prophet (pbuh) said: “This world, when compared to the Hereafter, is just as if one of you dips their finger in the sea and sees what they come out with”.
So sit back, enjoy the ride and know that it’s all going to be okay – God’s got you.
And verily God is the all-Knowing.