An Old Wooden Bucket: A Parable on Letting Go

The desire to own and possess can prevent us from seeing the abundance available to us.

Photo by Ahmet Sali on Unsplash

There once lived a man who carried a wooden bucket with him his entire life. This bucket was filled with water — living water, he called it. He would carefully ladle water from this bucket to drink when he was thirsty and he would scoop his hands into the water to splash his face when he was fatigued. Occasionally, he would use some of the water from his bucket to share with others and would even pour some of it out to water dry plants and fruit trees.

Mysteriously, the water never ran out. There always seemed to be enough. But still, it was heavy and the handle would cut into his hands. The splintered sides of the wooden bucket would rub against him and cut open his legs. Furthermore, the heavy bucket kept him from climbing up to the peaks of the nearby mountains and prevented him from blazing new trails — but he felt it was worth it because he had his living water.

The Unburdening

One day he came upon a great cliff. He looked over its edge to discover that his long journey had brought him to the ocean. This was the first time he had ever seen the ocean and he was astounded! He couldn’t fathom its depth nor the breadth of its reach across the face of the earth.

And then it hit him.

The water contained in his bucket was only a tiny portion of all the water that was. It was just a sampling of what was infinitely more available and discoverable. Without thinking, he poured a small portion of water from his bucket of water out over the edge of the cliff. He watched as the wind transformed it into a mist and carried it gently down to become part of the pulsing sea. He couldn’t explain this impulse. Perhaps it only seemed appropriate that he should return a bit of the living water to its source. This act nearly moved him to tears and filled him with a sense of awe and grandeur. It felt sacramental. It felt like his way of acknowledging the sacredness of all water — not just the water in his particular bucket. He repeated the act over and over until the bucket was empty.

For the first time, he felt a lightness in his body. The handle of the bucket hung lightly from his calloused fingers and his shoulders felt free and unburdened. For the first time, he saw that his bucket was merely a bucket — a simple vessel. The bucket itself wasn’t anything special. What the bucket contained, on the other hand, was very special.

But at this moment there also came a sadness…for his bucket was now empty. How would he refresh himself? How would he satiate his thirst?

While he contemplated these questions he caught a glimpse of a steep trailhead nearby that lead up the mountainside. He had never even considered taking such a path because the heavy bucket had always prevented him from doing so. But now it was empty and he felt un-tethered from it. Taking advantage of his newfound freedom, he decided to set his bucket down and follow the path to see where it led. His arms swung freely as he purposefully climbed the steep rocky trail that he had never been free to climb before.

One might wonder why he had never set down his bucket before to explore. Simply put, he was always worried about leaving his bucket unattended in fear that someone might take it for themselves or knock it over and spill his living water. And, although he would not likely admit it, he was so attached to his bucket that he could never bring himself to walk away from it, not even for a moment. One might also wonder: What was the man more attached to? The bucket — or the water that it contained?

He eventually reached the summit where he slowly turned around in a circular motion to take in the view. For his whole life, he had always stuck to the steady, flat terrain where there was little risk of spilling or damaging his bucket. This made the mountaintop experience all the more spectacular!

A subtle panic crept in, however, as he swallowed realizing that his throat was parched and his mouth was dry.

“My bucket!” he said in a soft, sad, and raspy voice.

Disorientation and Bewilderment

Just then, the sky darkened, the wind picked up, and it began to rain. He quickly looked for a place to hide — which he had always done before to keep the rain from diluting his living water — or so he thought. Realizing his folly, he instead turned his face upwards and allowed the rain to fall upon his lips. He cupped his hands together and allowed the rain to fill them. He sipped from his receptive palms and then splashed the water onto his face. It cleansed the dirt and sweat from his face in the same way the water from his bucket did. It satiated his thirst in the same way the water from his bucket did. And it cooled and refreshed him just the same.

He was filled with gratitude.

It was one of those quick and short rains, for the sun and heat returned almost as quickly as the clouds had come. He headed back down the trail to collect his bucket and figure out what to do next. The steep climb down the mountain left him almost as parched as the climb up did, but he had no means of filling his bucket.

There was, however, a river down in a deep ravine that flowed into the nearby ocean. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed it before! Since he always had his bucket of water with him, he figured he must have never bothered to look for water anywhere else. The river shimmered with beauty and its freshwater enticed him, but it would be nearly impossible to climb down to it with a bucket in hand. The ravine was steep and dense with brush and foliage. Even if he was able to get down to the river with the bucket, there would be no way to get back up with a full one. He would have to leave the bucket behind again to access the water he needed to survive.

In due time, he reached the river’s edge where he satiated his thirst and bathed in its rushing water. He looked up at his surroundings from the bottom of this valley. It was beautifully lush and dense with life. He had never seen the world from this vantage point. This made him wonder what else he was missing out on by never leaving the flat, safe path that enabled him to cling so tightly to his bucket.

Assimilation and Gratitude

He then had another epiphany. He realized that the water he had kept in his bucket wasn’t any different from the water all around him. It was all living water and it was everywhere! Even if the water that he poured into the ocean from his precious bucket was special, it would eventually be gathered up into the clouds and rained back down upon him, upon the earth, and into the very river he drank from.

He realized that the bucket itself, and his protectiveness over it, was the very thing preventing him from noticing and accessing living water in other ways. Now that he had left his bucket behind, he started to see living water everywhere!

There were little drops of living water hanging from the tips of every leaf that surrounded him. There was living water roaring over a cliff as a waterfall up ahead. Small streams of living water trickled down rocky riverbeds to join in the river dance. More dark clouds were gathering overhead preparing to release living water from the sky. As he stood knee-deep in the river he realized that the living water he had tried so hard to contain and protect was quite wild, uncontainable, and present in all things — and in places he never imagined! He took another long sip of water from his receptive palms and gave thanks.

Today, he no longer carries his bucket with him; but he still carries living water within him everywhere he goes.

A fellow observer on the journey through life. Trying to cultivate a deeper way of being in the world.

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