A bigger container

An idea I like from Zen Buddhism is becoming a Bigger Container.  My understanding of the idea is this:

There are a lot of difficult/bad/sad/scary things going on in the world, ranging from serious global issues, war, famine, terrorism, etc; to things in your city like homelessness or joblessnes; to things in your family, like difficult relationships or substance abuse; to tiny things in your life like a daunting project at work, or your inbox, or going through bills or cleaning your desk.

It’s hard to open yourself up to all of these things, because the are overwhelming and scary.  So the easy thing to do is turn away – to avoid.

Becoming a bigger container means making space within yourself to face an increasing number of these things, with compassion and without fear.  Being able to hold them and look them in the eye without any one of them grabbing control of you, carrying you away or breaking you.

From the reading linked above:

“What is created, what grows, is the amount of life I can hold without it upsetting me, dominating me. At first this space is quite restricted, then it’s a bit bigger, and then it’s bigger still. It need never cease to grow. And the enlightened state is that enormous and compassionate space. But as long as we live we find there is a limit to our container’s size and it is at that point that we must practice. And how do we know where this cut-off point is? We are at that point when we feel any degree of upset, of anger. It’s no mystery at all. And the strength of our practice is how big that container gets.”

When am most proud of myself, I am able to make space within myself to deal with hard things.  To look them in the eye, be with them, and not look away.  When I’m frustrated with myself, it’s often because I’m avoiding doing this.

The visualization that works for me is that when you become a bigger container — when you can generate some perspective — each of these individual things becomes smaller by comparison; less dominant.

It can be hard to do sometimes but I find it to be a really useful construct.

   

  • David Osborne

    Thanks for the post, Nick. In my experience, this concept of a container (and even a bigger one) also applies to our relationships to others. I think of the container concept when someone comes to me with a problem. Rather than trying to “solve” it, I work to create a container defined first by acceptance of the reality of their situation. I find that when I do this, I can create the space in which they can accept and work with their reality, in turn “solving” their own problem.