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One of the lessons I learned early in my walk down the yogic path was that I could not trust my assumptions, judgments, and many of my beliefs. They had been formed through misinterpretations, poor guidance, and unclear vision. Sri Swami Satchidananda considers this lesson so important, he includes the following story within his translation of Sutra 2, Book 1 of Sri Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – the core Sutra that underscores all the others. This simple story opened my eyes:

“Imagine you have not seen your father since your birth and he returns when you are ten years old. He knocks at your door. Opening it, you see a strange face. You run to your mama saying, “Mama, there’s a stranger at the door.” Your mama comes and sees her long-lost husband. With all joy she receives him and introduces him as your father. You say, “Oh, my Daddy!” A few minutes before, he was a stranger; now he has become your daddy. Did he change into your daddy? No, he is the same person. You created the idea of “stranger”, then changed it to “Daddy;” that’s all.”

He continues with this next illustration in the same translation:

“Whenever I speak to prison inmates I say, “You all feel you are imprisoned and anxiously wait to get outside these walls. But look at the guards. Are they not like you? They are also within the same walls. Even though they are let out at night, every morning you see them back here. They love to come, you would love to get out. The enclosure is the same. To them it is not a prison, to you it is. Why? Is there any change in the walls? No, you feel it is a prison; they feel it is a place to work and earn. It is the mental attitude. If, instead of imprisonment, you think of this as a place for your reformation where an opportunity has been given to you to change your attitude in life, to reform and purify yourself, you will love to be here until you feel purified. Even if they say, “Your time is over, you can go,” you may say, “I am still not purified, Sir. I want to be here for some more time.” In fact, many such prisoners continue to lead a Yogic life even after they left prison, and they were even thankful for their prison life. That means they took it in the right way.”

I have been reading a lot about the Tao and Taoism, and a few more stories with the same theme have caught my attention. I always take note when the same themes appear in different places, whether that be different theologies confirming each other, or better, when science aligns with spiritual lessons.

Perhaps these stories strike a nerve with me because I see myself in them. From Taoist writer Lieh-tse:

“A man noticed that his axe was missing. Then he saw the neighbor’s son pass by. The boy looked like a thief, walked like a thief, behaved like a thief. Later that day, the man found his axe where he had left it the day before. The next time he saw the neighbor’s son, the boy looked, walked, and behaved like an honest, ordinary boy.”

The Chinese story of “The Well by the Road” really reminds me of the flame-throwing, fickle pundits who live on cable tv news shows:

“A man dug a well by the side of the road. For years afterward, grateful travelers talked of the Wonderful Well. But one night, a man fell into it and drowned. After that, people avoided the Dreadful Well. Later it was discovered that the victim was a drunken thief who had left the road to avoid being captured by the night patrol – only to fall into the Justice-Dispensing Well.”

And one last story to remind us of how we allow external pressures, desires, and events to overshadow our true Selves. From the writings of Chuang-tse:

“An archer competing for a clay vessel shoots effortlessly, his skill and concentration unimpeded. If the prize is changed to a brass ornament, his hands begin to shake. If it is changed to gold, he squints as if he were going blind. His abilities do not deteriorate, but his belief in them does, as he allows the supposed value of an external reward to cloud his vision.”

Do you see yourself in these stories? I do. Over the years, with much practice and effort, I see myself less but not completely gone. We humans have chosen complicated ways, and the path to clarity is very long.

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I hear from friends all the time, “I have no time!”, “My to-do list is too long!”, “Why can’t I ever get everything done?”

Time is a precious commodity, as we only have so much and we have no idea how much we have. It amazes me how people give it away so freely. There are several tricks that can help you get your time management under control, but one of the best tips comes in the form of a story. I’ve seen this story attributed to various sources, so I won’t attempt to even try. You’ve probably seen this already, but if you haven’t here’s the story:

The teacher stood in front of his students and put a large, wide-mouthed jar on a table in front of him. He produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is the jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he asked, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped the gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

He asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time, the class was on to him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in, and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this demonstration?”

One student raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your life is,  you can always fit in some more!”

“No!” the speaker replied. “That is not the point. The lesson is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

What are your big rocks? Time with family? Quiet time for yourself? A special project? A cause? Focus on your big rocks first. If it’s truly important, don’t worry, the gravel will transform into big rock all by itself when it needs to. Remember, there is a difference between “busy” and “productive”.

Be sure to prioritize your big rocks, then rest and rebalance. Otherwise, there is always way more gravel than rocks.