There is an old story that tells of a person wandering on a hot day. After a while, they became overcome by thirst and began following the mirage up ahead as if it were real.
Quite by chance, their pursuit led them to a genuine riverbank flowing with fresh water. By this point, they were more thirsty than ever. But without taking a single sip, they just stood there looking at the river.
A bystander noticed the wanderer on the riverbank and said, “you look incredibly thirsty, and yet you are standing here without taking a drink”.
The wanderer replied, “I am so so thirsty. But look at this river. There is far too much water in there, how could I possibly finish it all?”
Just a Little Further
For something so short, there are several interesting things to reflect on in this story.
Was the wanderer aware of how far they would go when they set out? They don’t seem very well prepared to go far. They have no water. No knowledge of watering holes en route.
I actually did this last week in the mountains of North Wales. “Just a little further” was the message that underpinned what started as a walk to the end of the road and back. I can definitely see how it could happen. Especially if the weather is nice, the views are stunning, and you are lost in a city of thoughts.
The wanderer became aware of a growing thirst within. Their eyes locked onto this mirage up ahead.
They followed their belief in the truth of this image. It looked real and they dedicated their journey to reaching it. It contained a promise. Water. Relief. Satisfaction. Refreshment.
Mirages are always just a little further up the road. Notions like happiness, success, and wholeness might shimmer like reachable and real places on the path ahead. Many of us lock eyes on them. And society often encourages us to believe and chase these kinds of mirages.
But when we get to where we thought we saw them, we usually find an empty space. The shimmering image is still on the horizon. Out of reach. Not because it IS out of reach, but because it’s not there at all. It’s an illusion. A trick of the mind.
In the story, the wanderer has a stroke of luck and stumbles on a source of the very thing they think they’re pursuing. But they meet it with what seems like an utterly absurd response.
Yet this reaction feels familiar.
Finding Comfort In Our Obstacles
I recognise my own attitude to many things here. I am also reminded of many conversations we seem to have about the possibility of change, at the individual and collective levels.
Solutions to problems are sometimes very simple. But we hold to the belief that the only way to properly quench our thirst is to drink the whole river. And because there’s no way we can do that the only option we have is to feel sad about it while we dehydrate and wilt on the riverbank.
We are sometimes more comfortable dreaming of, believing in and chasing utopian mirages than using the opportunities and possibilities right in front of us.
Perhaps we create our own impossible mirages like the thirsty wanderer. We jump ahead, getting overwhelmed by the “but what if…” obstacles we place between ourselves and the river. Lamenting the fact that “it’s not that simple” while wishing it was and blinding ourselves to the truth that maybe it is.
Are you standing on any riverbanks right now? Maybe there’s something you would love to change, grow, or give time to. But you’ve told yourself there is no way you could possibly drink all the water in the river.
What if you could sit by the water and take just a few sips?