Lesson from a fish tank

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It is sometimes curious what provides inspiration for thoughts, musings, and instruction about life. We have all seen tropical fish in a tank. It might be as simple as a single goldfish in a bowl or something much more elaborate. Who among us has not wondered, at least momentarily, what living in such a confined space must be like? It seems a bit painful to watch a goldfish swimming around the confines of his/her world, looking out through the glass at a world he/she cannot enter. Is it so very different for us as we bump up against the barriers and boundaries that confine us and restrict us?

I have wondered from time to time, what thoughts and feelings might be swimming in the mind of the fish. Does it feel fear about the unknown which lies beyond? Or does it feel safe within the contained world that it knows? Does it feel anger about limitations that it cannot control or influence? Or acceptance in understanding that external control is an illusion after all?

At times, I contemplated moving fish to a bigger and more spacious tank. Surely it would be wonderful to move from a large bowl to a five gallon tank. Even better might be to go from five to ten gallons, or twenty-five, or fifty gallons. Why, that seems almost palatial! Yet, is it still not confining? Do the fish still not swim up to the glass and look outward? Are they truly less confined? Or are they simply living in a larger box of sorts, but a box none-the-less.

The answer seems to be that freedom comes from transferring the fish into a pond or a lake or a stream. But all of these are limited by banks, and shores, and cubic meters of water. None of these are unbounded. As a result, the freedom which seems present in such a large expanse for such a small fish is really just an illusion of freedom. The boundaries of even a very large box are still boundaries. How then can we be free?

True freedom comes with the recognition that it is not the external world but our internal world that limits us. Our imaginations represent an infinite wellspring of possibility, of potential, of creativity. We can go anywhere, do anything, be everywhere and nowhere, anytime, all the time without boundaries or restrictions using the power of our imagination. There are no limitations of time or space when we realize this. We are truly free and without limitation in this internal universe of possibility.

The boundaries and limitations both internal and external are indeed illusions. I like to imagine that the goldfish, swimming in the narrow confines of his/her bowl, knows this. I like to think that the goldfish is not bothered at all by the illusion of restriction, but does swim secure in the absolute certainty that it lives in unity with the infinite.

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