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A Hole in my Bucket

Our media portray adventure-filled, best-seats-in-the-house lifestyles. We are urged to never let go of our dreams. Yet, this can be the very thing that creates discontent.

'There's a hole in my bucket' is an old folk song. Henry has a hole in his bucket. Liza makes sensible suggestions to fix it while Henry refutes each of them. The song comes full circle when the last suggestion is impossible because there is a hole in the bucket. It is a wonderful song about futility!

Live life to the full!

This phrase, the opposite of futility, is often said to inspire us, to lift us up, to say that a better life can be had. It speaks of a 'can-do' attitude that says 'yes' to life. But the phrase is unhelpful if it assumes that my current life is not fulfilled. The encouragement to live life to the full can take us away from appreciating our life as it is.

I expect that we are all familiar with the term 'bucket list'. It comes from the phrase 'to kick the bucket' and is a list of things one would like to achieve before death. Kicking the bucket knocks it over and we lose everything. There is nothing wrong with planning adventures and special experiences. Unless we become more concerned with plans to fill the bucket than the actual living of one's life.

In some ways, the culture we live in encourages us to live our lives as an ongoing bucket list. Our media portray adventure-filled, best-seats-in-the-house lifestyles. We are urged to never let go of our dreams. Yet, this can be the very thing that creates discontent. We become anxious at the thought we may not be fulfilling our lives. Nothing is enough. A gnawing sense that life is passing us by, unfulfilled and futile.

This approach to trying to fill the bucket relies on seeking fulfilment from outside ourselves. There is a sense of satisfaction in buying something new, achieving goals, gaining approval. But over time the new becomes old; the goal becomes ordinary; the approval wanes. And so, we need more. We keep on filling the bucket, but the bucket has a hole in it.

We keep trying to make everything go right. But still things go wrong. We encounter problems, illness, loss. These present a shock to the system we find difficult to accept. We turn away, try to pretend it isn't happening. And then, there are times when nothing much is happening and life becomes boring.

But we can be happy without the list and the bucket with holes in it. All the different parts of our lives are important: friends and family, work, home, comfort. And all these parts can be happy or sad or boring at any time. The secret lies in our willingness to see them for what they are.

Recently, I bought a new television. The previous one had taken to cutting out mid-program. It gave me the opportunity to notice that feeling of satisfaction as I placed it on the shelf and turned it on. It affected me! I felt like someone with a new TV! I could show it to my friends. Enjoy the way the buttons actually did something when I pressed them! But I could also see that it's only a TV and one day it would break in its turn. The sense of someone special having something important was fleeting.

And what about the difficult times, the hard times, the times that do not fit on our bucket list? These times ask patience of us. The word stems from the Latin for suffering. Turn towards it, see it, acknowledge it. Often this is enough to ease the pain. But we may also need to do something about it. Approach someone, ask for help. Admit vulnerability and open your heart. And accepting our suffering opens the door to compassion towards others. We can see their pain and reach across.

And then there are times neither pleasant or painful. These times tend to last far longer. But in the movies, we hardly ever see them. Too boring! These are the mundane moments in life, humdrum and monotonous. How can we include them in a fulfilled life? The word mundane stems from the Latin for world. This is where we live most of the time! No difficulty, no excitement - washing up and walking to work. Humdrum and boring are interpretations. Words that inflect the experience. But these times are special because they are so quiet. We can reflect or let our thoughts wander. We can pay attention to sensations, thoughts and feelings. We can revel in each moment as it arises and passes away. Notice the washing up, the walking to work.

We may not be able to change the pressures we live under. Yet we can choose some of what we expose ourselves to on a regular basis. I am happy to know Buddhist teachings that encourage a non-grasping way to happiness. Something to counter the relentless materialism that drives so much of our world. I appreciate the inspiration of friends who live with little and are happy. A reminder of the freedom that comes from wanting less. Appreciating what I have rather than grasping at what I don't have, the hole is sealed. The bucket fills.

Photo by Jesús Silvosa

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