Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tales for the journey: The Bowl (The discovery of the self)

It was a large earthenware bowl and it had been buried for many years. I had been looking for some time, searching in the ground for signs of where it was buried, and gradually I began to notice the circular shape in the earth. I felt gently round it with my fingers and sure enough there was the rim, jutting out slightly.

It was some time before I was able to distinguish clearly the patterns on the rim.  I became afraid that other people may tread upon it and so I marked out a private place around it, and every day, whenever I had a moment, I came to that place to discover more.  I saw that there were markings around the rim, which may have been damage, a few chips here and there and maybe even a slight crack, but the rim made a perfect circle there, buried in the earth.

I set about digging round the circle and feeling under the bowl with my finger.  I was very careful lest I break it in my searching, so I asked a friend to help me.  We both worked at it, gradually removing the earth around the bowl, until the shape was clear and the bowl stood there in the deep hole we had made.

Then it was time to remove the bowl from the earth, and we tried to lift it- but it was too heavy!  The only thing was to make it lighter, so we set about removing the dirt from the bowl. 

There was a lot of accumulated rubbish that had collected in the bowl over the years, and some of it was quite unpleasant to see and to handle, but with care and gentleness we removed the dirt, bit by bit, careful not to damage the bowl. It was almost empty when I said: “Let’s take it out of the hole and place it in the sunshine where we can see it more clearly. 
So we did that, gently lifting the bowl out onto the soft grass where it stood, dirty and cracked in the morning sun.  I took the softest cloth I could find and gently cleaned the bowl until it gleamed in the light and the patterns inside and out began to show clearly.  It was a good bowl, large and commodious, and it gleamed.  I was proud of it, and it was mine.

I placed it on the shelf in my house, and for a long time I admired it and showed it to my friends.  They exclaimed with wonder at the hard work it had taken to remove it from the earth and clean it up. But as the days passed I was busy with other things, and the bowl, being large and empty, became a useful place for me to put my car keys, my biro and my letters.  Gradually over the weeks the bowl filled up with bits and pieces, until I couldn’t see the inside any more.

I wanted to see inside, to run my hands around its curving centre and feel its slightly gritty surface, but it was filled with all my things.  So I decided to empty it again, and take out the letters and the car keys and the old stamps and the rubber bands and the screws and pins and buttons that had accumulated there.

Why, I wondered, had I worked so hard to empty this bowl and brought it into my house, only to fill it up again with a new collection of things?  I polished the bowl and placed it with care on the table and admired it for a long time. Then my wise friend came to my house and he saw the bowl sitting there.
“That bowl is useless” he said.

I did not like him to criticise my beautiful bowl. “It is not!” I cried.
“It is useless because there is nothing in it,” he remarked.
I laughed, “Well you should have seen it last week: it was full to the brim with stuff!  I had to empty it because I couldn’t get another thing into it and I couldn’t see the lovely patterns inside it.”
“So it was full, and then you emptied it,” he mused.
“Now it is very useful!” I realised. “ It is not useless - now it is empty I can put things in it again!”
     “So it has become useful by being empty?”
“Yes.” I stroked the rim of the bowl with my fingers, glad that I had emptied it and was now able to see the patterns inside it.
My friend set me a puzzle that day.  How could I make my bowl useful at all times and forever?  I was sure this was one puzzle I could solve.

So I went to the well and I got some water and I filled the bowl to the brim.  Everyone was able to have a drink and when the level in the bowl fell, I was able to fill it up again every day.  Surely now my bowl was useful?

But then I was alone in the house for two weeks and the water in the bowl began to stagnate and become un-drinkable, and I was unable to fetch more water unless I poured it all away, washed the bowl and started again.  Once more I had to empty my bowl to make it useful to me!  I had not solved the puzzle this way.  So I left it empty, ready for anyone who wanted to use it, but it lay empty and useless for a long time.

My friend came again and I said, “ I cannot solve this puzzle!  How can I make my bowl useful at all times and forever?”
He took up the bowl and silently led me to a small spring where water trickled out of the rock.  He place the bowl on its side, where the water could trickle in and trickle out again over the rim at the bottom, leaving a small, clear pool of fresh running water in the curve of the bowl.

“ Now drink” he said, and I drank, and the water flowed into and out of my bowl as it lay there under the spring, filled with water at all times and forever.

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