Grasping At Water

Grasping At Water


The old abbot was just completing his 100th recitation of the Greatest Six-Word Brilliant Dharani as part of his pre-dawn meditation when he became aware of the presence behind him.

Without looking, he knew that his student was waiting for him and, without knowing how he knew, he was aware that something was troubling his heart this morning.

His compassion for the young man’s palpable darkness caused the abbot to finish his practice early, perform the clearing ritual to end the meditation and return to earthly matters and, without opening his eyes, to say “What is wrong my son? What troubles your heart so?”

The young man startled, amazed as he always was at his master’s ability to know intimately what was happening in his heart without ever having to ask.

He paused, framed his response and answered hesitatingly “Master… I am trying hard, SO hard, to master my practice, to be a good, kindly and compassionate man as I go through this life… but it feels that the harder I try the harder it becomes to achieve the goals I have set myself.

Circumstances, people, thoughts, feelings and even inanimate objects seem to conspire against me to send me in the exact opposite direction to the path I have set for myself.

I need help master…” and dropping his voice so that it was almost a whisper and with a tear rolling down his cheek he said “I am trying as hard as I can, I don’t feel I have any more to give…”

The old man turned then and stared silently into the eyes of his favourite student.

For a full minute or more the old man’s gaze was constant, deep, probing, never blinking, silent.

Finally, the abbot’s face split into a warm smile as the answer to the riddle of the boy’s predicament came to him.

“Follow me, my son” he said, and led the boy on a short journey around to the rear of the temple where the simple well that was the community’s source for fresh drinking water was situated.

Standing at the edge of the well the old man said to the boy “My son, the answer to your your sorrow lies in this well. Once you witness the miracle that the water has to teach you, you will never again have to bear the sorrow and darkness you now hold in your heart”

The boy looked toward the well, part hopeful yet, at the same time part sceptical, after all, he thought to himself, he visited this well daily and had never once seen a miracle.

But he trusted and loved the old man and opened his heart to whatever this latest teaching involved, trusting that his master would never make promises that were not capable of becoming true.

The old man looked at his student and said “My son, I want you to throw your hands into the water as fast and as hard as you can. Strike for all you are worth as if your very life depended upon it and attempt to bring out as much water in your closed fist as you can in a single attempt”

Used to strange and unusual requests as part of his monastic training, the young man did as his master commanded. He took a strong stance, plunged his arms as deep as his elbows into the cold, crystal clear water, closed his fists and pulled his arms back up toward his face.

“Now, open your hand and show me what you have as a result of your efforts” said the old man and the youth complied.

Upon opening his hands he saw… nothing but the faintest sheen of water upon the skin of his hands and arms.

“Try again” said the old man and the youth did, this time moving faster, striking harder and gripping for all he was worth.

And again.

And again.

And again.

Each time, the same thing happened; slightly damp hands and arms and nothing more to show for all his efforts.

Finally, the master stopped the young man and said “Now, watch ME my son” and he walked to the edge of the pool, opened his hand and slowly placed it beneath the surface. With fingers together and his hand shaped into a shallow bowl he raised his hand from the pool to his lips and drank the sweet, cool water straight from his palm.

“More often that not” the old man said “in order to get the rewards you seek in life you have to relax and not try so hard. You have to work with the tools you’ve been given rather than force yourself upon circumstances.

The wise person knows that when what they seek keeps slipping through their fingers, that they’re probably trying too hard. When they realise this, they slow down, relax and cease grasping at water, and as soon as they do… their thirst is quenched”


Like the master says, whenever you’re giving all you’ve got, whenever you’re pushing up against what feels like an immovable object, sometimes, in fact more often than not, the solution lies in slowing down, relaxing and taking the time to really think about whether you’re working as smart as you could be.

And sometimes, in fact most of the time, smarter means slowing down, thinking, relaxing and just BEING with the problems for a while instead of trying to muscle your way through to a solution that you feel you MUST have immediately.

Look, we can ALL work harder than we are, but since when was the answer to working too hard to work harder still?

Working smarter always beats working harder.

Always and in all ways.

So stop grasping at water.

You deserve better than struggling over and over only to keep coming up empty handed.


Just BE… and your thirst will be quenched.

Look for the ordinary miracles in life… they’re there, just waiting for you 🙂

Truth, joy and love


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