Becoming Like a Lake - creating a larger container for our experience.
Updated: Aug 20, 2022
There is a parable about an ageing spiritual teacher who had an apprentice. This young man was often miserable, always complaining about something or other. Growing tired at last of his disciple's attitude, the teacher sent him one morning to fetch a bag of salt from the store house.
When the apprentice returned, the teacher instructed the unhappy young man to take a handful of salt, put in a glass of water, and then drink it.
‘How does it taste?’ the old man asked.
‘Bitter,’ spat the apprentice.
His teacher chuckled and asked the young man to take another handful of salt and follow him down to the lake.
The two made their way there in silence. As they stood at the edge of the lake, the teacher instructed the apprentice to take the handful of salt and swirl it into the water.
‘Now,’ the old man said, ‘drink from the lake.’
As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the teacher asked, ‘How does it taste?’
‘Fresh,’ remarked the apprentice.
‘Do you taste the salt?’ asked the teacher.
‘No,’ replied the young man.
At this the teacher sat beside this serious young man, and took his hand, saying:
‘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 living your life as a glass. Become a lake.’
We can spend a lot of time trying to get rid of the salt in life. We wish that we could fix it, transmute it in some way. This kind of work may be helpful along the way, but in time we come to realise that we each have our portion of pain in this life. Whether or not we experience this as a source of suffering has a great deal to do with the kind of container we have.
I often talk with people I work with about this idea of ‘container.’ In the Somatic Experiencing way of looking at things, so much of the discomfort, the suffering, we experience day to day comes from the contraction we carry in our bodies, the places where we are braced against life.
As children, we may have squahed our experience, made ourselves smaller in order to survive. What was meant to be a short term coping strategy, however, often evolves over time into a habitual way of being. Now, as adults, deep patterns of contraction in the body affect our posture, our breathing, our thoughts, our sense of connection to others...ultimately affecting our whole experience of life. We have become like the glass.
When I am working with clients who are carrying these patterns of tension in the body, we begin to explore what the movement towards expansion might feel like – always working at a pace that the person's nervous system can tolerate. Rather than always seeking to reduce, to manage, to explain what is happening with us, there can be a tremendous sense of freedom that comes with the discovery that, sometimes, the response that is required is actually to allow our experience to take up more space.
In this way we begin to gain more space in the body. We contact a fuller sense of who we are, of our potential in life. We come to discover that what we needed all this time was not just to feel ‘OK,’ but to feel alive again.
If this post resonates with you and you think you might like to work with me, or find out more about Somatic Experiencing, please get in touch.
And if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter.