I have had an epiphany. My first thought, as I travelled down this road, was that this thought was a method for describing Buddhist thought. After thinking a bit further, it occurred to me that this was actually very presumptuous of me. While I do consider myself a student of religion, and while I do consider Buddhism to be the school of thought that most closely resembles my own belief system … to say that this is a Buddhist thinking is to assign a level of understanding into Buddhist thought that I simply do not have. I will leave it to others to determine if this is so. Furthermore, any kind of writing that waxes philosophical is inherently presumptuous, and to some extent, self-aggrandizing. By the same token though, this is a blog, I suppose its somewhat expected that our own egos are the engine that drives them. So it goes…

The Basics

The Rhino and the Watermelon are symbols. Perhaps starting with a basic definition would help. Imagine that the Rhino and the Watermelon are manifestations of negative and positive energy (respectively) in our lives. A manifestation can take on either a physical form or an emotional one. For example, someone attempting to punch you can be the physical manifestation of a negative energy being sent to you by the person attempting to do you physical harm. Someone kissing you might be a physical manifestation of a positive energy.

Emotional manifestations are by their very nature a bit more abstract. An abstract concept like “hate” or “love” are not physical entities, but instead emotional ones. While I think those two examples are perhaps a bit too general, they do convey how the manifestation can be around an abstraction instead of a physical thing.

So why create these symbols, these manifestations? Simply put, to give you a target to shoot for. In discussing religion with a rabbi, a priest or a monk, one common theme with all of them is the idea that we should be seeking to better ourselves in the eyes of our deity. Whether that is by following a code of rules set out for us in a scripture or by the written laws of society, or just in our own self-image, some introspection becomes necessary. These symbols give us a target to examine and ponder.

Avoid, Embrace and Choice

One aspect of this thinking is the idea of choice. To go back to the analogy of the person attempting to punch you, its pretty clear that you actually have very little time to “decide” whether this Rhino is actually going to forcibly become a part of your life or not. With the possible exception of skilled martial artists, it really isn’t much choice at all. For the majority of us not so skilled, our only option will be to attempt to minimize the effects of the blow. So this is where the principle of “Choice” comes into play. Some Rhinos and Watermelons do not give us choice about whether to take them into ourselves, but instead of thrust upon us rather forcibly.

This is actually unavoidable. I would almost go so far as to say that the majority of Rhinos and Watermelons are ones that we cannot avoid. Which brings me to avoidance. In some cases, you will have fore-knowledge of the presence of the Rhino (or Watermelon) before it comes into contact with you. Perhaps you know of an event that is going to transpire, and you have time to decide if you want to act to avoid the event, or allow it to come to you and embrace it instead. Avoidance is the act of allowing the event to pass you by, without letting its energies influence your person or entity. Likewise, embracing is the act of putting yourself directly in the path of the uncoming event, and taking it into yourself and experiencing its energies.

You might think that, intuitively, you should always try to avoid the Rhinos and embrace the Watermelons. But quite honestly, thats not always true, and for a variety of reasons.

First, it may not always be possible to pre-judge whether something will have a negative or positive impact on your life. For example, our incoming event is a new relationship with someone you’ve recently met. Especially in the early stages of such things, it is frequently not possible to see far enough into a person’s character or self to determine if they will be a positive or negative influence on you.

Second, and this is actually a topic for discussion later, it is often true that we need to learn specific lessons by experience on the path to becoming a better person. While it might be an interesting intellectual exercise to try and learn from someone else’s examples or teachings, it is often the case that only through actual exposure to those energies can we learn the failing in ourselves, find the way to correct it, and be a better person for it. Likewise, this is frequently impossible to tell ahead of time.

To use an analogy I’ve oft heard in discussions around this topic, a parent may very well want to show his or her child the “path” across the rocks in the stream that will get them across without getting dunked in the water. You can point out the unstable rocks, having fallen off them yourself, and hope the child takes your guidance and avoids them. But ultimately, the child also needs to learn what it is to have failed, gotten wet, and picked themselves back up again, knowing now why you were trying to help them in the first place. The same is true with many life experiences. While it might be useful to examine, intellectually, an event like “falling in love”, or “breaking up with someone”, until you have experienced those events firsthand, the discussion of them will fall flat and not make alot of sense to you.

Despite all of that, I do think its useful to mention that, when it is possible to do so, we should examine incoming events to determine if Avoidance or Embracing is the right path.

Self Actualization

We often hear the term “A window into the soul”. In my thinking about Rhinos and Watermelons, I think it is also useful to use this analogy quite literally. For better or worse, we are the culmination of all of our life experiences to date. All of the Rhinos and Watermelons we’ve embraced (either willingly or without choice) are a part of us, and it behooves us to examine them and determine how we let them influence our lives.

Many published philosophies include methods or descriptions of self-actualization, or “the motive to realize all of one’s potentialities”. Whether you subscribe to Goldstein’s theory of motive, or Maslow’s methods for fulfilling needs to realize your potential, they are all focused on the end goal: reaching your full potential as a person.

It is the belief of this author that we cannot self-actualize unless we have full examined the energies that have influenced us along our path in life. Once we embrace an energy, whether positive or negative, unless we understand its impact on us, we cannot hope to make “correct” choices in the future about avoiding or embracing similar events. This is also an excellent segue into a topic I mentioned earlier…

Turning Rhinos into Watermelons, or Regret

I believe I live without regret. You might think that a bold statement to make, but I think it is instead an indicator of how we choose to deal with the Rhinos we face. Like the earlier example of crossing the stream without falling in, it is what we choose to do with the event of getting wet that defines us. Did you get frustrated and continue to run blindly along, stepping on stones that you might have been able to tell were unstable, or did you take more care, test the stones along the way, and avoid falling in again for having adopted a strategy that allowed you to avoid that failure again. In short, did you learn from the experience or not?

Regret is defined as “an intelligent or emotional dislike for personal past acts and behaviors”. However, if we have turned that past act into a learning experience, and in fact, *gained* from it, that dislike for the immediate effects of the act can in fact be made into a positive effect and negate the dislike entirely.

To go along with our earlier symbols, this is the act of turning Rhinos into Watermelons. This also feeds into something more fundamental, and something that is fairly central to many psychology treatment regimens. Namely, the idea that until we have properly “dealt” with events in our past, it is difficult if not impossible to cope with current events.

So perhaps I should qualify my original statement now, in that context. Instead, I will say “I strive to live without regret”. It is a constant process of self-examination to dig up the old Rhinos and turn them into Watermelons. Perhaps a life-long process that never truly ends.

( to be continued in pt.2 … )