The Colander and The Bowl

The colander and the bowlIf there were one gift, or tool, that I could bestow upon every parent it would be the consciousness of a bowl.  

The individuated self is like a bowl—solid and able to contain whatever one puts in it.  With a bowl, good feelings fill us up and bad feelings are held without negating or destroying the vessel that holds them.  

A newborn is a soul without a bowl, an uncarved block from the World Tree.  As parents we help shape the prima-materia of our children’s psyches into vessels that can hold feelings, and which can eventually “hold it together” under the intensity of opposite emotions, such as love and hate. 

As discussed in an earlier post, children are like colanders and we run a lot of love through them before it sticks.  Also, due to the nature of brain development, our children’s intellectual and emotional capacities are akin to walking across a field of Swiss Cheese, with pockets of poor judgment, regressed fear and anger, and lapsed or regressed cognitive functioning (i.e. the algebra they knew on Tuesday is an unfathomable morass on Thursday).

Swiss Cheese, colanders… the net effect on us parents is that our kids can be draining, needing us to hold their wobbly psyches within our own, and to catch, contain, metabolize and feed back the overflowing emotions that are simply too much for them.  

If we hope to be shapers of bowls in our children, it is best if we too are cohesive bowls in the first place.  But, alas, this is not where most of us start out; and even if we are psychologically solid, parenting soon fills our bowls with so much love, dread, responsibility and mental baggage that we simply have to grow into bigger bowls in order to contain all that our children—our wise little overflowing fountains—spill into us.

In this sense parenting offers a fantastic opportunity for  spiritual development in a symbiotic relationship to our children’s emotional and psychological development.  Held within the bowl of the parent’s psyche, a child develops psychologically (i.e. discovers who they authentically are, learns to trust, to share and to take risks), while the parent develops spiritually through the very process of parenting.  By loving our children more purely than we love ourselves, by recognizing their beauty and their sacredness, another bowl, the bowl of Self (akin to the soul and capitalized to differentiate from the ego-self) is formed.  If childhood is about discovering our selves, parenting is about making our souls.

Our children’s selves form like clay upon a potter’s wheel.  One hand guiding from outside is our loving attention; the other hand, guiding from within, is our containing of their overflow, particularly in holding our child’s opposites (i.e. our her contradictory views that we parents are both wonderful and we are frustrating).

The young child “splits” the parent into good and bad, much as God in the Old Testament divides darkness from light; and we are tasked with participating in the great mystery by stretching and straining to hold the original opposites together in one tempered and tested parental soul-Self.  We parent and help make our children’s selves, and out of parenting we also make our souls—that deep Self bowl meant to, in turn, consciously hold something of the divine.  In this way parenting teaches us the meaning of life, which is to simply (although it is far from simple to get there) live it.

Shaman legends hold that the first instrument was the drum, carved from a branch of the World Tree; it was the heart of the tribe.  All art (and parenting is art) is about talking to God across the transoms of our soul.  Parenting is rife with huge questions, and thus with true art:  How can we contain the intensity of our love and our potential loss?  How can we hold the transcendent in our mortal hearts?  How can we understand that all is perfect when it hurts so badly sometimes?

This may sound too esoteric, but trust that the deep Self hears differently than the ego-Self.  See what your deep Self thinks about this bowl idea by watching for synchronicities, odd little hints and clues about the path your own deep Self wants to follow (for when you follow that path, pain is transformed, no longer necessary, and the love you get makes it all worth it).  

Sound out what your deep Self thinks about this by paying attention to your dreams.  If you get one that truly puzzles you, share it here if you like, meditate patiently on its meaning until it emerges (I’ve had dreams that took decades to make sense, and others I’m still waiting to understand).  

An exercise to consider:  Take the nicest bowl you can find, or that pleases you in some way.  Don’t buy another thing, just make due with what you have.  Contemplate that bowl, put it somewhere to remind and teach—a bowl is our wisest “self-help” tool and teacher, quietly listening without judgment, modeling how we might be. 

Let that bowl be a symbol of our sangha, our community of all parents who want the best for all children—a collective bowl of compassionate mental energy.  Imagine putting what you can’t hold into that bowl, in the service of your self and your child.  Imagine taking out the abiding patience and solidity to be your best Self as a parent, to your child and to our world.

Dedicate today to being the bowl in the service of your child, and of all our children.  

Namaste, Bruce



5 Responses to “The Colander and The Bowl”

  1. rebecca @ altared spaces Says:

    I started to quote this first line that appealed to me “good feelings fill us up and bad feelings are held without negating or destroying the vessel that holds them.” and then I was going to comment on that… but I found I was going to quote a line from every paragraph.

    Bruce, I don’t know if you realize it, but you wrote this blog for me. Tears are streaming down my face.

    I wrote a long time ago about the Love Well. That we must first find the plug on the bottom so that our Love Well is able to fill up. Some of us are lucky enough that the plug is found in childhood. For others we have to find it later in life. But all of us can find it.

    Until we do, we have no ability to be filled up by Love. Because we simply cannot contain it.

    I love, love, love the colander, and the cheese. Yes, I will be the bowl for my children. And I will find a way to become a bigger bowl because I really get it that I need to do that. Juices from my children are spilling out left and right!

    Thank you for being here. I’m coming to you as a sponge just soaking up what I can.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Hi Rebecca, and thanks for your very kind words.

      I am struck by your use of the Well as metapphor, as I see it as an archetype of abundance (if able to flow up), but I have also personally experienced depression as akin to an empty well in which we feel trapped with no way up or out.

      Beyond just wanting to send you gratitude and good wishes, I think that your journey mirrors my own in that we all seek our own paths, resonate to different metaphors, but ultimately realize that the true wisdom is none of ours individually and all of ours together. Our pains and struggles bring us to each other, teach us how to love if we allow it.

      First we are taught by our children how to love beyond ourselves, then we make our way toward each other to form some sort of virtual bowl, or plugged well, with which we might flow over to the benefit of all our collective children.

      Perhaps we are only limited by the limits of what we can imagine, if so, our creative process is part of our growth and healing; beyond this, it is our capacity to love even what cannot be imagined that mysteriously aligns us with the river of life (though the colander, over the bowl, up the well, to the ocean and again to the clouds).


  2. Thanks for giving « Privilegeofparenting’s Blog Says:

    […] if we cannot give freely, we need a cup more than we need any particular thing in that cup (see the colander and the bowl for more on the essential gift of the cup, the root of the […]

  3. Altared Spaces » i am contained by containers Says:

    […] Today my altared space is my altar! I recently got inspired to redo it based on a blog post by the kind and thoughtful Bruce at Privilege of Parenting. He asked us to put a bowl on the table […]

  4. i am contained by containers | Altared Spaces Says:

    […] Today my altared space is my altar! I recently got inspired to redo it based on a blog post by the kind and thoughtful Bruce at Privilege of Parenting. He asked us to put a bowl on the table […]

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