On Becoming The Ferryman

The Art Of Living Is Knowing How To Make Use Of Suffering

As The Ferryman you transmute the base metal of your own pain and suffering to bring hope and healing to others


On Becoming The Ferryman. The Art Of Living Is Knowing How To Make Use Of Suffering. Photo of a large ferryboat transport people across a river.

The Life Of The Ferryman

The traditional life of The Ferryman is all about transporting passengers from one side of a river or estuary to the other. He is needed where the water is too deep for a crossing on foot and where there is no bridge. In literature and mythology he is often seen as an agent of transition from life to death.

In this article we see the ferryman as an agent of transition, and a champion of compassion, in the context of suffering and pain.

We all want health, wealth and personal happiness. Yet it is in these three big areas that we all get tested, eventually. We all suffer at some point - one way or another.

Suffering is an unavoidable part of the human condition. Often we just struggle on through it as best we can until things take a turn for the better. But there are other times when there is nothing more we can do and still it goes on, and on.

Traditional teaching suggests that you have two options: you can resist suffering or you can accept it.

I want to offer you a third, and potentially more powerful option, you can use suffering.

You can let go of self-centered worries and become a champion of compassion. It can be the greatest happiness of all. But it comes at a cost.



    Compassion is threatening to the ego. We might think of it as something warm and soothing, but actually it’s very raw. When we set out to support other beings, when we go so far as to stand in their shoes, when we aspire to never close down to anyone, we quickly find ourselves in the uncomfortable territory of “life not on my terms.”

    [Pema Chödrön]







Who Is The Ferryman?


In Buddhist thought and teaching The Ferryman is a metaphor for a champion of compassion.

  • The Ferryman knows that we all cross the river of life together, that we are all in the same boat, we are all fundamentally the same and want the same things.
  • The attitude of the Ferryman is that the pain that usually drags you down and causes you to withdraw into yourself is the stepping-stone for awakening your compassion and your understanding of the pain of others.
  • The Ferryman seeks the best in all people and does his or her best to help everyone open to their true nature together.



    As the Ferryman you transmute the base metal of your own pain and suffering, you hold it, you feel its sharp edges until it is intimately known, and you use it to show, by how you live or what you make, or what you share, that suffering can be used to bring hope and healing to others.








Personal notes

In a recent article I shared how my late father suffered thoughout his life from  many serious and tragic setbacks, and how he experienced depression, despair and a deep seated feeling of not being good enough.

Yet despite his pain and unresolved suffering he reached out to many people and through his personal  kindnesses, and especially through his lifelong ministry as a Methodist lay preacher, he touched the lives of many people.

In preparation for his funeral I received the following tribute from someone to whom he had been a surrogate Uncle right to the end of his life:  

“Don was one of the good guys and he made an intense and positive impact on our lives.

On a personal note, I carry wounds, deep wounds that I have borne for over 20 years - the best years of my adult life  - and that I am not yet ready to share in a public forum such as this.

It is from these depths that I find the means and motivation to share, through all of the articles on this website, some of the little I have learned. I do this in the hope that it may bring help and support to many others in their passage across the river of life.









    Coldheartedness and narrow-mindedness are not the kinds of habits we want to reinforce.

    They won’t predispose us to awakening; in fact, they will keep us stuck.

    So we make the commitment - take the vow to care for one another - then do our best to never turn our backs on anyone. [Pema Chödrön]








Further Reading:






Next Article: Things Of The Spirit

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