"If a man is crossing a river" (says Merton's Chuang Tzu) And an empty boat collides with his own skiff, Even though he be a bad-tempered man He will not become very angry. but if he sees a man in the boat, He will shout at him to steer clear. If the shout is not heard, he will shout again, And yet again, and begin cursing. And all because there is somebody in the boat. Yet if the boat were empty, He would not be shouting, and not angry. If you can empty your own boat Crossing the river of the world, No one will oppose you, No one will seek to harm you."
I don't see this as an invitation to not be present to our own lives or to abandon responsibility for them. It's more about not being self-involved, not being anxious or prideful or controlling about where life is taking us, but trusting instead that we are part of a larger picture we may not yet understand. If we are fully present, listening and acting with as much discernment as possible, bringing what gifts we have and using them as we are guided, things just seem to work. It's when we begin to push, I think, that we meet resistance.