The Glass of Water Analogy


The Glass of Water Analogy comes from Bruce Frantzis Kumer, who got it from his final Taoist Master Liu Hung Chieh (although I have amended the metaphor slightly to better fit in with a therapy context, but it is still a brilliant analogy either way). The story upon which this analogy is based is to be found in Kumer’s book Relaxing Into Your Being: The Water Method of Taoist Meditation, page 105.

The basics of the analogy is as follows:

Take a clear glass, fill it with water, pour some sand into the glass, and then leave the sand to slowly settle to the bottom of glass. As it does so, the water becomes clear.

Take a spoon, stir up the water, and observe how the sand is also stirred up by the motion of the water, making the clear water clouded again.

Let the water stand, and observe how the sand slowly settles to the bottom of the glass once again.

Well, what does that show us?

Well, the glass is us, our personality, and the clear water is our consciousness.

The sand is all our psychic material and debris, our beliefs, fears, and / or karma, which is clouding, disguising, or hiding our true consciousness, making it murky.

Normally, we don’t see this stuff, because we go through life in such a way that our consciousness is stable, and the karmic sand stays still at the bottom of our ‘container’.

But we can’t live our lives that way 24/7, 52 weeks of the year, because eventually life comes along with a big spoon and stirs us up…

Maybe we are made redundant, maybe our ‘one and only’ soul-mate leaves us, maybe a parent or child dies suddenly and unexpectedly…

And when that happens our consciousness is stirred up, and all the material at the bottom of our container is automatically disturbed and shaken, and so starts to cloud our consciousness… and suddenly everything becomes murky and unclear. We can’t see where we are going… we don’t know who we are anymore… we may not even be in control of our lives, which can be very scary indeed, and instead we feel we are at the mercy of unknown desires, thoughts and feelings, crashing against us like some monster psychic tsunami.

We feel that our safe life is at an end… we don’t know what is happening… we are in pain, and we don’t know what to do to get it to stop, and we can’t even see a way forward anymore.

Now, at this point, we usually find that time is a great healer… in that once the stirring stops, the debris settles down in our unconscious mind, just as the sand will eventually settle down to the bottom glass, and the water becomes clear once again.

It just takes time and patience

Which means that over time, eventually our experience settles, and clear consciousness returns, just like the sand in a glass of water.

This is sometimes why conventional talk counselling works…. not that the therapist has done anything much, except listen, but over time things have just ‘settled down’ by themselves, and the client has achieved a degree of clarity… which the therapist can then take credit for.

But the problem is that, after things have settled down again, the sand is still ‘down there’ at the bottom of the glass, and so can still be stirred up again by some future event or shift. And remember, this is all the psychic material which you don’t want to face, so you are probably glad that it has gone away for a while at least… out of sight, out of mind. You feel much better, and that’s what counts… even though nothing much got healed or resolved along the way.

For true healing to occur, then you must tackle the question of how to get rid of the sand at the bottom of the glass.

Well, let’s go back to the Glass of Water Analogy.

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