Become a Lake

This Zen koan I read early this morning nicely sums up my practice:


An aging master grew tired of his apprentice’s complaints. One morning, he sent him to get some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master told him to mix a handful of salt in a glass of water and then drink it.

“How does it taste?” the master asked.

“Bitter,” said the apprentice.

The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”

As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?”

“Fresh,” remarked the apprentice.

“Do you taste the salt?” asked the master.

“No,” said the young man. At this the master sat beside this serious young man, and explained softly,

“The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains exactly the same. However, the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things. Stop being a glass. Become a lake.”


This little story is a lovely, concise summation of what for many of us is our life’s work. “Become a lake” is easier said than done. BUT it can be done. However, this transformation requires commitment, patience, and willingness to forgive one’s self and others for “being a glass”. To make a transformation is to consciously choose new thoughts, new behaviors – as often as we can remember. We humans are creatures of habit and those habits are deeply patterned grooves that can be of great help or great hindrance. To form new habits requires a conscious effort to 1) avoid falling into the hindering grooves, 2) be gentle and forgiving with ourselves when we find ourselves IN a hindering groove, 3) choose faith in and action toward our new habit (get out of the hindering groove and put effort into creating the new, helpful groove).

So, in those moments when I find life painful and bitter, instead of just complaining about the pain and bitterness, I find ways to get bigger, make my heart a more expansively compassionate container in which I can dilute the pain. I remember that while I cannot change the salt, I can choose to become a greater body of water. Sometimes, that looks like just choosing to shift my perspective. Other times, that may look like reaching out for a hug, taking time to pray and meditate, engaging in simple, self care activities (hydrating, taking deep breaths, resting spending time in nature, and so forth), creating art, and/or connecting with someone who can gently remind me that I’m capable of transforming pain into learning or pleasure (or some combination of both).

My invitation to all of us today… become a lake. It just feels better.

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