Becoming a Lake with Pain

Oct 6, 2023

Below is a Zen story, that I have been reading to qigong students, and I wanted to share it with you. It really resonates with me, and I hope it will with you too.

At times, I taste the bitterness of pain, and other times, I can taste the freshness. I can expand my awareness—the container— of where the pain resides.


Become a Lake

An aging master grew tired of his apprentice’s complaints. One morning, he sent him to get some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master told him to mix a handful of salt in a glass of water and then 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 and 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. At this the master sat beside this serious young man, and explained softly:

“The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains exactly the same. However, the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things. Stop being a glass. Become a lake.”


I love this story, it’s simply another way of embracing what is—life happens, right? THEN, we have a choice to taste the bitterness of life, with a laser-sharp focus (the glass container). OR, we can expand our focus, to become the lake.

Below is an invitation to ponder some questions and feel into the answers:

  • Where is the pain coming from?
  • When did it begin?
  • Can I breathe into this pain fully?
  • Is this pain more physical or emotional?
  • How can I give more empathy for myself?
  • Am I attached to an outcome?
  • Can I surrender?

In Qigong/Tai Chi, we practice using our peripheral vision. It’s the ability to see out of the corner of our eyes. This means that we’re able to see things outside of our direct line of vision without having to turn our heads. It’s taking off the “horse blinds” and expanding our awareness.

Yes I hear you, it’s easier said than done—BUT isn’t reducing any kind of pain is worth it?


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