Driving I-95 S. With an empty boat.

I glance at the odometer: 80,000 miles. 8 years, 80,000 miles. 80,000.

I read somewhere, some time ago, that the average person has 50,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day.  Reading this sentence was like swallowing a handful of methamphetamines – my mind was galloping.  How did my mind jump from 80,000 miles on the odometer to 80,000 thoughts per day and some article I read x years ago?  Who’s job was it to count these thoughts?  How did they actually count the thoughts? How many humans’ thoughts did they count to get to this average, and over what period to time to make this statistically significant? And then, a hard turn to Me.  Am I average, below or above average, and if so, why? Do those of us who are carry more doubt have 25% more thoughts than those that are more stable?  This last one set off a burst of fireworks.

I’m exhausted chasing this thread.  Repeat: Mantra. Mantra. Mantra. Let it Go. Let it Go. Let it Go.  Or as Val in Finding Your Middle Ground suggests,  “I inhale peace. I exhale release… I inhale peace. I exhale release… I inhale peace. I exhale release.” I grow impatient with this mantra, my breathing accelerates, I cut it down.

Release. Release. Release.

I pause a second or two between each “Release” and reach for the volume button on the radio. No doubt I average over 100,000 thoughts a day. No doubt. And a small percentage of them can even be nurturing.

And It comes back.

A single thought. A thought that recurs, and recurs, crawling over the millions and millions of old thoughts, to stand on top of all thoughts. One experience, one feeling, during a single hour of Life, one thought that flashes back like tinsel.

It’s Chicago. Early afternoon on Friday. It’s late spring. The Cabbie is racing from 500 W. Madison to O’Hare where I’m hoping to get a seat on standby to fly home to NY. Traffic is light on the Edens Parkway just in front of rush hour. The windows are open, the warm breeze rushes in.

There are no meetings to get to. No calls to make. No emails to catch up on. No meetings to prep for.  In need of…nothing. Feeling…feather-light. The weight…gone.

I jump out of the cab with plenty of time to check-in.  The American Airlines rep secures a seat on an earlier flight without a change fee, I pass through security (no lines), and walk down the concourse.  Sunlight beams through the skylight.

From a distance, I can see Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant, and can hear music. Jazz music.

There is small group of fans that circle this three piece band, who is playing Grover Washington, Jr.’s Winelight.  I stand watching as this music courses through me.  This empty me on a Friday afternoon, over 6 years ago.

It couldn’t have been more than 3-4 minutes that I stood there listening, but I replay this single experience, these moments, this feeling, that walk down the long concourse in O’Hare, those steps, that footfall, that music….again and again and again.

Alfred Hayes in his book “Love” describes a yearning for “Things in their place; a semblance of order; a feeling, true or deceptive, of well-being; an afternoon in which something apparently happens.”

For me, I have this same yearning, but for Spring afternoons where nothing happens, me needing nothing to happen, just a need to float weightless along with the air currents.

A yearning to float on Thomas Merton‘s boat.

Who can free himself from achievement
And from fame, descend and be lost…
He will flow…unseen,
He will go about like Life itself
With no name and no home…
Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.

Empty my Boat.




  1. Inhale Grover Washington, exhale any heavy metal. We create our cacophony, so I guess we can create our smooth jazz…

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Creating that space and feeling within each day, that you speak of, all comes down to a focused practice. Not easy but possible.,great piece Mr K. Love Thomas Merton, it is the truth! 🙏🏻

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Did you ever read Time Kreider’s article in NY Times *The Busy Trap”? This reminds me of that. “Idleness is not just a vacation or a vice: it is as indispensable to the brain as Vitamin D is to the body….it is necessary to getting any work done.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • No Michael. But I’m off to find it. What a great piece. Thanks for sharing Michael. Especially like his close.

      Perhaps the world would soon slide to ruin if everyone behaved as I do. But I would suggest that an ideal human life lies somewhere between my own defiant indolence and the rest of the world’s endless frenetic hustle. My role is just to be a bad influence, the kid standing outside the classroom window making faces at you at your desk, urging you to just this once make some excuse and get out of there, come outside and play. My own resolute idleness has mostly been a luxury rather than a virtue, but I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love. I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy.

      ~ Tim Kreider, The “Busy” Trap


      Liked by 6 people

  4. Ahhh, DK, another tour de force. I could feel the frenetic pace at the outset, then lapsed into the easy melody of freedom at the conclusion. You have the power within you to find this place regularly (and linger there), I’m confident of it. I think it’s all about granting yourself permission, and as Beth suggested, practicing compassion for yourself. Grab an oar, pal, you got this…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. David. We are following parallel paths and thinking parallel thoughts. Just what this old boy needed to hear today. Thanks again, as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. beautiful writing; reminds me of Happy Gilmore’s “happy place”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am exhausted just thinking about all this. Breathe. Release.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I was in the same place two days ago. Sitting in my driveway in the sun pulling up dandelions. Can’t remember the last time I was so content.
    Your empty boat reminded me of this story: http://www.thedailyzen.org/2015/05/27/the-empty-boat-by-chuang-tzu/

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thank you, once again, for making me sit back and think and wish I had the gift of expression that you do…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great writing, David – tinsel flashes and all. Isn’t it funny how just a glance at the odometer preciptates the mind-spin: how your brain immediately engages, as if given permission to shift into overdrive. Then (to paraphrase) “I pause between release and reach for the button on the radio” – !! Head immediately reclaiming its lost ground during those pregnant pauses … then. Stop. Feeling emerges. Sigh. Some of us live more in the feeling realms, so your post further elucidates the challenging torment of a mind in overdrive. We can laugh it off or develop yet more compassion. My heart goes out to you ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What we have experienced we can experience again… even if it’s just a moment in our mind. That memory and that music may be your mantra David 💛

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I’ve been trying to comment on this since I read it this morning while I was making coffee. I could write an 80,000 word comment on this. You brain would provide very valuable information to scientists. As you are wired very differently and in some rare form.

    And, what if you are not the boat?
    What if you’re the ocean?

    Intriguing post 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Christie says:

    I found your quote of Thomas Merton, interesting so I started to google…discovering “The Empty Boat” in entirety as my mind drifted back to a short piece of fiction, I read a few days ago..by Barry Lopez (National Book Award winning author) and his collection of short stories,a book titled “Field Notes” and particularly his short story, “The Negro in the
    Kitchen” I so wonder if Mr. Lopez has read “The Empty Boat” and it influenced him ? Just seems to be a similar flow of life of the main character, his journey of stepping away from contempary life and out into the world, as a man unseen,unless he wants to be seen…a solitary journey in which he travels deep into his thoughts, to a simpler existence, in-tune with the rhythm of nature…

    “Father” Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is the saintly man who caused the Dalai Lama to come to admire Christianity as the equal of his beloved Buddhism. (Robert Thurman)
    Merton is an artist, a Zen

    The Way of Chuang Tzu (first published in 1965)
    As free, interpretive readings, this book is very much Thomas Merton’s own, the result of five years of reading, study and meditation. Chuang Tzu, the most spiritual of the classic Chinese philosophers, is the chief historical spokesman for Taoism. …

    “The Empty Boat”
    He who rules men lives in confusion;
    He who is ruled by men lives in sorrow.
    Yao therefore desired
    Neither to influence others
    Nor to be influenced by them.
    The way to get clear of confusion
    And free of sorrow
    Is to live with Tao
    In the land of the great Void.

    If a man is crossing a river
    And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
    Even though he be a bad-tempered man
    He will not become very angry.
    But if he sees a man in the boat,
    He will shout at him to steer clear.
    If the shout is not heard, he will shout again,
    And yet again, and begin cursing.
    And all because there is somebody in the boat.
    Yet if the boat were empty.
    He would not be shouting, and not angry.

    If you can empty your own boat
    Crossing the river of the world,
    No one will oppose you,
    No one will seek to harm you.

    The straight tree is the first to be cut down,
    The spring of clear water is the first to be drained dry.
    If you wish to improve your wisdom
    And shame the ignorant,
    To cultivate your character
    And outshine others;
    A light will shine around you
    As if you had swallowed the sun and the moon:
    You will not avoid calamity.

    A wise man has said:
    “He who is content with himself
    Has done a worthless work.
    Achievement is the beginning of failure.
    Fame is beginning of disgrace.”

    Who can free himself from achievement
    And from fame, descend and be lost
    Amid the masses of men?
    He will flow like Tao, unseen,
    He will go about like Life itself
    With no name and no home.
    Simple is he, without distinction.
    To all appearances he is a fool.
    His steps leave no trace. He has no power.
    He achieves nothing, has no reputation.
    Since he judges no one
    No one judges him.
    Such is the perfect man:
    His boat is empty.”

    ― Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu

    Liked by 2 people

  14. This post is only, um, BRILLIANT! This is exactly what I’m teaching my creative writing students this morning. Write about a moment of pleasure. A moment that says ‘it’ all to you. A moment you want to savor, to stop the thoughts, doubts, misgivings. A moment you want to die with. I call it ‘the snapshot.’ I have one – similar to yours, yet different. But no matter, it’s my own snapshot of peace and lightness and the thought of nothing but…ahhh. Here. Now.
    Thank you, David. Absolutely lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. We are such creatures of forgetting. If you were to pull up some of your old “Driving” posts, you would be stunned by how many of these moments you have/create, how many you’ve shared with us. You make faces at yourself outside the classroom window and we watch and are reminded as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m not sure where I lifted the quote.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Christie says:

    The Barry Lopez quote, you shared is the opening to “Field Notes” ‘Introduction Within A Birds’ Hearing’ I read that story out-loud to my husband. Also, In that short story, there is an amazing passage about his time in the desert and Mourning Doves: I couldn’t find a source to cut and paste so I typed it out from my copy of his book…
    “Another time, the eight day out, I fainted, collapsing from heat and thirst onto the cobble plain through the blood shimmer of air. I was as overwhelmed by by my own foolishness, as struck down by the arrogance in my determination as I was overcome by thirst. Falling I knew the depth of my stupidity but not as a humiliation. I felt unshackled. Released. I came back to the surface aware of drops of water trickling into my throat. I tried to raise an arm to the harrowing sun but couldn’t lift the weight. I inhaled the texture of warm silk and and heard a scrapping like stiffened fans.When I squinted thorough quivering lashes I saw I was beneath birds.
    Mourning doves were perched on my chest, my head, all down my legs, their wings flared above me like parasols . They held my lips apart with slender toes. One by one, doves settled on my cheeks They craned their necks, at angles to drip water, then flew off. Their gleaming eyes were an infant’s lucid pools.”
    I like the way Barry Lopez and you write…

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I like how you write too. That thought crawls over all other thoughts for a reason.

    Liked by 1 person

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