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To Be Fish or To Be Sharks (Apologies to Shakespeare's Hamlet "To Be or Not To Be")

Updated: May 4, 2021

Dear Reader

I often wonder about the phenomenon of remaining still, while the chaos and intense activities & happenings of life surround us. I frequently try (and fail) to breathe in the moment, and to live in the present, despite the myriads of thoughts, the concerns regarding the past and the future, and the general ‘rat race’ of life.

Seldom, do I manage to master the art.

But recently, I had the magical opportunity to witness the underwater community and to take lessons from two groups within its ecosystem.

On the one hand, there is a large group of sharks (who I like to call ‘the movers and the shakers’) – who only breathe through a technique called “ram ventilation”. By swimming fast, these sharks actively force water into their mouths and then extract the oxygen from the water through their gills. Such sharks, including, great white, mako, and whale sharks, must constantly swim in order to breathe and to continue to exist. They do not have the luxury to stop to ‘smell the roses’, and to ‘take a breather’, for this ironically will stop their breathing.

On the other hand, there is the general fish population. Fish have many more muscles around their gills which allow them to extract oxygen more easily from the water, without constant movement. Thus, fish have the choice to swim like sharks, or to stop and breathe in the stillness and beauty of the moment. Oftentimes, fish will remain still in an alcove of coral, floating in suspension in the water. It is almost hypnotic and meditative to watch them afloat, internally still, while the external waves cause them to gently sway back and forth in peaceful harmony. The fish exemplify the art of stillness, for although the currents may rage with unrest above and around, the fish are not affected, and are able to maintain their core serenity.

As Humans, on dry land, we have the choice to be ‘Fish’ or to be ‘Sharks’. Luckily, we do not need to maintain constant activity in order to be and to breathe. But, we appear to forget that. We race around like ‘Sharks’, allowing our work, and our commitments to force us to be constantly on the run, in a heightened state of action, without any balance or time to breathe. And even when we are physically inactive, our minds are on high alert, and our thought processes are in overdrive.

Yet, as Pico Iyer (author of The Art of Stillness) so eloquently puts it: “All of us are feeling scattered and distracted as we try to keep up with an accelerating world. But nearly all of us have an answer in our hands, in simply choosing to do nothing and go nowhere for a while.

We can choose to be ‘Fish’. As ‘Fish’, we can either swim or float. The choice is there for our taking. And, choosing to be still and to ‘do nothing’ is by no means decelerating, for there’s a practical benefit too. Indeed, floating, being, stilling, and taking a ‘breather’ in the middle of the chaos and intensity, may even help us to gain perspective and to ultimately be more productive.

So, between the business deals, the negotiations, the patients, the clients, the cases, and the family dramas, take a ‘still’ moment to just simply be and sip a cup of chai tea. And appreciate and savour each special moment. For that is all we will ever really have and hold.

I’m going to enjoy every second, and I’m going to know I’m enjoying it while I’m enjoying it. Most people don’t live; they just race. They are trying to reach some goal far away on the horizon, and in the heat of the going they get so breathless and panting that they lose sight of the beautiful, tranquil country they are passing through; and then the first thing they know, they are old and worn out, and it doesn’t make any difference whether they’ve reached the goal or not.” (Jean Webster, American author and writer, 1876-1916)

With stillness, serenity, sunshine and salvation,

Until next time….


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