An aging master grew tired of his apprentice’s complaints. One morning, the master sent the apprentice to get some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master told him to mix a handful of salt in a glass of water and drink it.
“How does it taste?” the master asked.
“Bitter,” said the apprentice.
The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake. Once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”
As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?”
“Fresh,” remarked the apprentice.
“Do you taste the salt?” asked the master.
“No,” said the young man. The master then sat beside his apprentice, and explained,
“The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains exactly the same. What matters, however, is the amount of goodness we use to dilute the salt. When you are in pain, the best thing to do is to enlarge your sense of goodness to dilute the pain. Stop being a glass. Become a lake.”
Positive psychology research supports the many benefits derived from becoming a lake – broadening our appreciation for the good in life dilutes the pain we suffer, and offers physical, emotional, and mental benefits. Adopt these three practices to dilute the salty taste of pain, and drink in life’s fresh tasting goodness:
Offer support. It’s easy to get caught up in our own problems. When we do, we lose sight of the fact that everyone carries a handful of salt. Take a moment to listen to someone else’s experience. The simple act of listening dilutes salt. Once you’ve listened, offer an encouraging word. You needn’t solve their problem, the act of listening by itself adds water to their problem. Dilute their salt even more by offering words of support, “Hang in there.” “I’m wishing the best for you.” “I’m sorry you are having to deal with this.” Watch the bitterness wash away as you listen and offer support.
Express appreciation. Each year I receive a number of thank you notes from former students. These students dilute their own salt and at the same time dilute mine with heartfelt notes of appreciation for the lessons I have taught. These note remind me of the power that appreciation has to fill up our lakes. Appreciation can be offered in many forms – thank you notes, words of gratitude, smiles. Create your own lake at the same time you add water to another’s by offering words of appreciation every day.
Capture happiness. My smartphone offers an unexpected method for adding water to my lake. The camera feature allows me to capture moments of happiness, review these moments, and share them with others. Since getting a smartphone, my lens on life has shifted as I look for examples of happiness that I can capture. Often I share my pictures of happiness along to others, adding water to their lake as well. Whether through my smartphone camera, or capturing moments of happiness in my heart, a focus on beauty, happiness, and joy offers water necessary to dilute the salt that is part of life.
A point the aging master surely knew when teaching his lesson is that the best way to dilute our pain is by filling up other people’s lakes. Expressing appreciation, capturing happiness, and offering support are three ways that we can dilute other’s salt while simultaneously filling up our own lakes.
What are other ways we might dilute our pain? Has someone taken time out of their busy lives to fill up your lake? Who is an aging master that has offered lessons of significance to you?