I have found a simple image from one of my teachers hugely helpful: “The mind will get filled with qualities like mindfulness or lovingkindness moment by moment—just the way a bucket gets filled with water drop by drop.” As soon as that image appeared in my mind’s eye, I clearly saw two powerful tendencies. One was to stand by the bucket lost in fantasy about how utterly exciting and wonderful it would be when the bucket was filled, and while lost in the glories of my someday enlightenment, I am neglecting to add the next drop. The other tendency, equally strong, was to stand by the bucket in despair at how empty it was and how much more there was to go—once again not having the patience, humility, and good sense to add one drop exactly in that moment.

Because I’ve used this image in my teaching, I’ve heard variations on my own fantasies. Often people come to me and say “I tend to completely overlook my own bucket to peer into someone else’s to see how well they’re doing. Is theirs fuller than mine? Is it emptier? What’s going on over there?” 

Comparison is disempowering. It dissociates us from our own potential. 

Often people say “I think my bucket has a leak.” My response: “These buckets don’t leak.” 

Mindfulness and lovingkindness are not objects we can either have or not have. We can never lose them. We may lose touch with these qualities of heart, but right here and now we can recover them. It is each moment of recovery that adds a drop to the bucket. In every single moment, regardless of what is happening, we can be mindful, we can be compassionate. In an instant, the mind can touch these qualities again, come to know them again. In that sense, the bucket is completely full with every drop. 

Excerpted from Finding Your Way: Meditations, Thoughts, and Wisdom for Living an Authentic Life by Sharon Salzberg (Workman Publishing) © 2023.

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