Sunday, February 12, 2006

Bowl of Life

In my early teens I complained to my uncle about how busy I was; how I couldn’t get everything done. Now, I knew that my uncle was a very wise man. He had his PhD., had been a college president and was now the head of a department in a nearby university. I don’t quite know what advice I expected but he invited me to sit beside him on a bench and he told me this story of a young Buddhist monk:

The young monk arose each morning,
spent time in meditation,
picked up a large empty bowl
and journeyed out around the countryside.

As he travels from place to place,
people come out to him and
place things in his bowl.

Some days his bowl is very full
some days his bowl is empty
every day, he eats the food that people have put in his bowl

When night comes
if there is no food in his bowl
he goes to bed hungry
if there is food left in his bowl
he eats it all --- nothing is to be wasted.

He is to begin each day
fresh and new
with an empty bowl
and accept what the day brings.

My uncle did not explain the story. Obviously, he was not really talking about food. I began thinking about my bowl of life.

As a teenager I wandered around examining my bowl, wondering a lot about the bowl, not necessarily holding it out but keeping it to myself, thinking about what someone might put into it.

During my college years, I did let a few things slip into my bowl, rather than using them; I continued to examine not just the bowl but the things that were inside, wondering what I should do with them. I wanted to understand…. From my bowl I hoped to find answers. Admittedly, I didn’t know the questions but I did want the answers.

When I was a young mother, I found my bowl so full that I turned it upside down so no one could put anything into my bowl.

After my children left home, I discovered that my bowl seemed to have grown clear. Everyone could see the contents of my bowl. Regularly people, even strangers, would approach and tell me what they thought about the things they saw in my bowl. To my amazement, on occasion, someone would walk up to me, remove what they wished from my bowl and replace it with something else.

My boss gave me a ring that fit on the edge of my bowl. It was fitted with hooks all around the sides, where people could attach the myriad of things that would not fit inside.

Suddenly I became ill; too ill to carry my bowl, it dropped and shattered. Some people tried to help me pick up the pieces but there were too many. Finally the contents of the bowl were distributed to many people.

Today I have a new bowl. Although tempted to carry the bowl upside down again, I do carry it right side up but I find myself carrying a bowl with a small opening so that I can choose what I will let people put inside.

What is happening to your bowl of life?


Anonymous Wendi said...

What a wonderful post, and a wonderful image for life. I'll have to give my "bowl" some thought. Thanks. :)

9:56 PM  
Blogger HoBess said...

Your artwork tapped my heart as soon as it popped onto my screen ... then I read your post and am all warm inside. I couldn't help but react to "When I was a young mother, I found my bowl so full that I turned it upside down ..."

On a day when I wanted to write my first morning pages (I just picked up AW) before exercising and get both things done before the kids got up I overslept, Mr. 4 got up early, Ms. 7 got up sniffly and Mr. 6 got up grumpy. Needless to say I felt drained when the bus arrived.

Good thing I kept one promise to myself: to check in with all of you. Thanks for the lift, and the reminder that if my bowl overfloweth it's my responsibility to tend to it. After all, I'm constantly saying "Don't be wasteful."

I just love the image of the hooks ... and the way you described your bowl breaking! I'm thankful you're feeling better now and hope your day is wonderful.

Did you get caught in that big storm I've been hearing about?

10:43 AM  
Blogger Kara said...

I really love your writing. The drawing of the bowl is so wonderful. I have a seed pot made by a Navajo that is kind of flat and has a small hole and now when I sit at my computer and my gaze falls upon it I will have this meditation of contemplating my life bowl. Actually I am learning to make handformed (not on the potter's wheel) pots and I may play with this idea. Thank you so much.

10:59 AM  
Blogger tess said...

This is such a powerful post! The bowl is lovely, and the words so meaningful. Thank you for sharing yourself with us. And how wonderful to have an uncle to share such an important story with you.

I can relate to how you turned the bowl over to avoid more input and to how your bowl shattered. Illness was also at the root of my "dropping the bowl". I tried to put its pieces back together, but eventually realized that a new bowl was needed. I have a new and different bowl now, and I am starting to let things come in--and go out. Thank you for this. (By the way, I am still working on another belated response to you. Was working on it last night and lost my Internet connection.)

2:56 PM  
Blogger In Otter Space said...

What a wise uncle and a wise niece to share it with us.
...and just the thing I needed to read tonight. Thank you so much for reminding me to be like the and willing to allow things in.

9:59 PM  
Anonymous HomeBird said...

Oh my, what a post! It especially resonates with me, since I try to carry an image of a young monk with a bowl with me as much as possible. I am trying to recall correctly the Zen buddhist story it comes from, which I read many, many years ago. It goes something like this. A young monk studying Zen says to the master, "Master, you say that the Zen way is to free ourselves from the details of daily life, but every day we must eat our rice and wash our bowl. What should I do to free myself of these daily details?" And the master replied, "Eat your rice. Wash your bowl."

9:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow wow wow-- what a post!

And I was full just gazing on the beautiful painting of the bowl.

But what a reflection you have given us all.


9:29 PM  
Blogger Maxly said...


I have missed your posts. I hope you are still enjoying the artist's way.


10:20 PM  
Blogger HoBess said...


I've missed your posts these past days ... hope all is well.

10:25 AM  
Blogger Gwyn said...

What a beautiful meditation on that Zen tale. My bowl is filled with slop and leavings right now. I think perhaps that might be part of trying to grow a depressed young adult into a happy person again. Sometimes I think we have to carry things we'd rather not, but are still important to keep in the bowl--for a time, anyway.

11:37 AM  

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