Surrounded by water and dying of thirst

You know the values clarification game where you are asked to imagine yourself on a raft with 6 or 8 other people? Typically the scenario gives you a brief character sketch for each of the other people, and you are then pushed to decide who you would throw out of the raft in order to save the lives of those who remain. The rationale usually involves something like a lack of clean drinking water or a shortage of food, and of course there is no knowing when or if any of you will be rescued. Well, this raft story is not that one.

 In his book ‘Awareness’ Anthony deMello tells the story of a group of people who are marooned on a raft off the coast of Brazil. Here’s my version:

 One sunny afternoon in Brazil Marta, Enrico and a small group of their friends set out for a lovely afternoon on the waters of the Amazon, dallying away the day. Somehow, they lost their paddle and so could no longer control the direction of the raft. The waters of the river carried them out to the ocean, and there they were, trapped and unprepared. What had been a lazy, lovely day now became a life and death situation. They had no food or water with them. The current was carrying them farther and farther out into the ocean. They knew they were immanently going to die if they did not get some help. And in the heat of sun, they were suffering the effects of dehydration. And they were surrounded by water they dare not drink. The one think that they knew for sure was that to drink the salt water of the ocean.  They knew that drinking ocean water would only make them thirstier. They had all grown up hearing about tourists who drank ocean water and came away with headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. No ocean water was no help for their dehydration, that they knew. Surrounded by water and they were dying of thirst.

 But, here is what they did not know: the rush of Amazon River water that carried them out into the ocean still surrounded them. The Amazon flows out into the ocean with such ferocity, that it carries a stream of fresh water out into the ocean. There are estimates that up to 100 miles from the mouth of the Amazon in the Atlantic Ocean you can dip out some fresh water. But the paddlers knew what they knew and they were not about to take the risk of even tasting the water around them.

 All too often we are like Marta, Enrico and their friends. We know what we know, and we are not about to be disabused of our knowledge by taking the risk of being open to new perspectives or alternative.  Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me! Ah, yes, but we can be brainwashed by the blinders that platitude imposes. 

 All too often our vision, our dreams are limited by the blinders of fear and mistrust.  April fool’s day is approaching. And this year, I propose that we should all take a risk and be fools for love! Let us move out into the world with hearts open to the joy and freedom of love. For one day (then maybe more), let’s take a risk and approach each other with the foolish freedom of heart that young puppies carry when they meet someone new! Imagine the sweetness and joy of a world where love and justice flowed with the power of the Amazon? Where love and justice were carried for miles into the ocean of fear? Let’s all try it for a day and see what happens?


5 thoughts on “Surrounded by water and dying of thirst


    Lovely and encouraging challenge, Mary.

    I recall when one of my daughters was sitting doing her homework. She said “I don’t know who I should choose to live?” I asked about the assignment and she described it as the one you mention about value clarification. I asked her how she knew no one would come to the rescue? She said “Well the question doesn’t include that.” I suggested she write in her response: “Just as they were about to give up hope they saw a boat approaching them. They were saved.” At that point the real “values clarification” took place. I asked her how she thought it was helpful for students to respond to such a question? We spoke about how there is always hope and, while it is true that we are frail as human beings and our faith, our prayer or hope doesn’t prevent us from sad experiences, we live in hope. There’s always too much to say about such things but so much is about perception. I hear you saying give hope a wide birth! Thanks.

  2. Stefan

    Hello, I just read the story by De Mello and was googling whether it actually happened or he just made it up to support his arguments.

    Did it actually happen? Are there any references to verify the story?

    PS. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Awareness book. It just makes a ton of difference to me to think about the real story and made up story.

    1. Stefan,

      so, here’s what I think … it happened in de Mello’s mind. it happened in my mind. it happened in your mind. did it happened in the lives of other people? I don’t know. but everytime I find myself thinking about ‘real’ I go back to the Velveteen Rabit by Margery Williams … and then I gotta say, there is so much heart in this story by de Mello, it is real for sure.


  3. quaco


    Here is a mention of it in a book from 1891 (on pg. 732-733):

    It seems possible that there is no one case of it, but that it was a well-known phenomenon, even that far back.


    P.S. Love De Mello — he brought me here too.

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