On his fifth voyage, Sinbad the Sailor was in a strange foreign land where The Old Man of the Sea tricked Sinbad into carrying him around everywhere. The old man was thin and wiry and had gnarled legs and heels. He kicked him incessantly until Sinbad thought he would rather be dead than carry the cruel old man around anymore. Eventually, Sinbad created some wine and tricked the old man into drinking some of it so that he became drunk and fell asleep, falling off Sinbad's shoulders once and for all.
Certain things torment us ceaselessly in our lives, and we may reach a point of desperation so that we feel we'd rather be dead than endure the agony any longer. What we do during our lives to win the battle over the old man who rides our shoulders - or what we fail to do, either by lack of will or knowledge - defines our lives. There is a moment of recognition that the time has come to begin the real struggle to prevail; no more fooling around; no more tolerating the abuse or compromising yourself anymore.
It's interesting that in the story of Sinbad, no one approaches him to offer him help to get the wicked man off his shoulders. It's his own struggle. As in our own internal struggles, no one can help Sinbad because the old man has supernatural powers and he has the sole intention to be carried around by Sinbad alone. He's wickedly strong, agile, and his demands for portage are unrelenting and painful.
Sinbad uses his wit and guile to outsmart the wiry man who has not yielded an inch to Sinbad. No negotiations and no mercy are ever shown to him. Sinbad has to reach a point of total commitment to rid himself of the tormenting man and save himself - regain his life.
At some point, a cruel rider has jumped aboard and is holding on tight, kicking and beating us, kicking hard in places that are often defenseless and painful. Can the man be gotten rid of? Oftentimes he is allowed to ride our shoulders because we cannot imagine any other way we would live. Sometimes we think the struggle is an important one to wage and choose to endure the strangling burden.
The legend tells us that Sinbad cannot find his gifts unless he removes the inhibition and heavy load of pain and ugliness that the old man represents. Sinbad releases himself from bondage at last and continues on his fantastic voyages, wiser, freer and eventually returns home with vast wealth.
The old man is a metaphor for something that's riding hard and cruelly. He must be cast off and the journey must renew. When will it be time?
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way