The Parable of the Wooden Bowl

Today I’m sharing a short, simple but powerful parable that tends to stick in your head.

Its lesson is one of those ones that will pop back into your mind and guide you in those moments when you need it the most…and we all need this story because it points out a common failing we can all be so prone to falling into. You can watch by clicking the (five-minute) video below or read the story below.

Once upon a time, a very elderly man became too frail to live on his own so he went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and his four-year-old grandson.

The old man’s hands were shaky, his eyesight was blurred, and he was very unsteady on his feet. The family ate together at the table but the elderly grandfather’s trembling hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth.

The son and daughter-in-law (who had busy lives and were often tired by dinner time) became more and more irritated with the mess. ‘We already have so much on our plate with our business and our family. We must do something about father as he’s just creating more work and hassle for us’ said the son. ‘I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor.’

So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner together. Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was now served in a wooden bowl. When the family glanced in Grandfather’s direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone.

Still, the only words the overworked and irritated couple had for him were sharp criticisms when he dropped a fork or spilled food.

The four-year-old watched it all in silence.

One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, ‘What are you making?’ Just as sweetly, the boy responded, ‘Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up.’ The four-year-old smiled and went back to work.

The words struck the parents so that they were speechless. Then tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though no words were spoken between them they both had the realisation that they were teaching their son indifference and harshness instead of kindness and compassion.

That evening the husband took Grandfather’s hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family. And neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.

The next day they decided to simplify their lives a little, so they had the time to focus on family, on love and on what mattered most.

Every one of us can probably relate to this story. There are times when we behave like the parents did and we choose convenience over compassion. There are times when we are harsh or impatient because we are ‘too busy’ to listen, to be kind, to be patient. Or times when it’s just too inconvenient to live our values so we take actions that seem easy in the moment but lead to disharmony or suffering in the future.

The art of mindful living involves a conscious effort to live a life that’s true to us. A life in alignment with our values…and maybe the true test of how mindful a person is, is how they act when nobody is looking – or when the only one who is looking is our grandparents, the check-out lady, our partner, the janitor or our children.

Are there ways that you have been overlooking what matters most in your life? If so what could you do today to change things?

One final thought on this story –  we don’t need to judge ourselves harshly when we find ourselves off course. It’s all part of being human. Mindful living is not a perfection project and this is not about always being flawless. We can be compassionate with ourselves when we make mistakes along the way and like the parents in this story, we can then renew our intention to live with more compassion, with awareness, authenticity and with our inner compass set to true north.

PS If you’d like to know more about identifying your values you might like this three-part series on the topic. You can also take my free seven-day e-course on mindful living by entering your email at the bottom of this page.

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