How to Untangle Fishing Line – And Our Lives


When I was just a little tyke, way before spin-cast type fishing reels, we had to put up with basket type reels. Instead of the line freely flowing from the end of the spinning reel as it does now, it would unwind mechanically, a very inefficient method for bait casting though still used for fly-fishing. In order to keep the basket from getting ahead of the line, we fisher people learned how to slow the basket by dragging our thumbs on it so that the line wouldn’t become tangled.

In the learning process of performing this dragging maneuver, however, sometimes we wouldn’t drag hard enough, especially when we were trying to cast the line farther than we safely should, and the result would be unearthly line tangles, as the basket revolved faster than the line. Large “bird’s nests” of fishing line would suddenly fluff up right before our eyes, and it would be almost impossible to untangle.

I was not wealthy and didn’t have the luxury of discarding the tangled mess and buying new line, so I had to patiently sit there, sometimes for hours, untangling my line – a welcome break for the poor fish!

As I reflect on this childhood experience, I see where my life is very much like that spool of fishing line. Until I decide to cast a line, no tangles happen; but of course everyone wants to fish for something! And if I cast my line carefully, with just the right pressure, not trying to cast it too far or too quickly, sometimes I am safe as well. Of course, the desirable fish are always “way out there” and the temptation is to take a chance and go for it! But when my line becomes tangled because I didn’t have enough pressure on the reel (reality) to keep it from turning too fast ahead of my line (ambition), I could mess up my fishing day, or maybe my life!

We tend to get out in front of ourselves in many ways. That seems to be the nature of desire. If we are lucky enough to see that we are getting ahead of things, then we can sometimes adjust our pressure on the reel, the aspiration, before our line becomes tangled. Because once it fluffs up into a giant bird’s nest, we have a real mess on our hands; once we have engineered our brilliant tangle, and it’s bound to happen, then the problem becomes untangling our line, and untangling our lives.

If you have ever sat down to untangle a really bad bird’s nest, the first thing you will discover is that the knots are very tight, and very small! One can barely see the knots; they look like tiny bumps in the line and not knots at all, but by using a magnifying glass, one can plainly see the knots and remember how, in life, each of those knots occurred.

It’s as easy as pie to make a knot, but most difficult to untie one. It takes no patience at all to tie one, or compassion or kindness for that matter. It’s only when we try to untie a knot that we usually become acquainted with strange terms like compassion, forgiveness, understanding, and patience. Until our life becomes tangled, we are free to cast our lines as far and as fast as we wish, but each time we cast our line foolishly, we become a little more careless, until… “fluff,” the bird’s nest!

But all is not lost because there are two ways of untying our knots. We can painstakingly untie each one, making amends for our carelessness before fishing again, or we can throw the line away and stop fishing altogether. Throwing the line away is a metaphor as well as a visionary concept, so hang with me here.

Throwing the line away means that we stop casting our line “out,” and instead cast our line “inwardly.” We might have to untangle a few things that we’ve done in the past, but we no longer make further tangles. Admittedly, this is a strange concept, rarely considered by most people even though many are increasingly beginning to catch on that the really big fish aren’t “out there.” When we cast our line inwardly, it is not possible to have tangles because we really don’t cast a line; we simply sit on the bank, enjoying nature and waiting for the fish come to us.

To do this takes a great amount of wisdom because we are accustomed to obtaining our pleasure through outside means. We “do” stuff. We see, hear, taste, feel, dream about things, and giving up these outside pleasures cold turkey is almost impossible. What we can do, however, is to become aware of how we are programmed to always go outside for our pleasure, even though that pleasure never lasts, forcing us to cast our line again and again, forever. Both casting lines and the pleasure it produces becomes our addiction, with the pleasure becoming so important that when disrupted, some people do violent things to get it back. There are even those who live entirely for pleasure, and consequently find nothing but pain.

Casting our line inwardly involves a different kind of pleasure. Rather than sensual enjoyment, it is more of a confidence and peacefulness, a fulfillment that can’t be taken away. Regardless of circumstances, the things discovered within remain, and this is the true treasure. Gold and silver must be hoarded and guarded, but what we discover within can be shared with the world, in which case it only grows that much more.

When we learn to cast our fishing line within, our fluffy bird’s nests will be a thing of the past!


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