Emptying the Sea: A Story of Tenacity, Community, and Compassion

I was in college studying philosophy and comparative religion when I had this revelation about myths and folklore and stories of all sorts.

We are always every character.

I don’t remember which brilliant professor planted this seed for me but I think about it all the time.

I mean this idea sort of changes how I see Goldilocks, you know? This particular story isn’t about Goldilocks but it is one of my favorites.*

Do I say that about every story? I think I might.

One day, two birds laid their eggs on the beach and then needed to get some food. After a short debate about whether or not they could trust the ocean, they decided to ask the ocean to watch over their eggs until they returned.

When the birds got back from their dinner, the eggs were gone. “Why oh why did we trust that guy? The ocean is so unpredictable. We should have known better!”

When they confronted the ocean about the missing eggs, he was devastated. “I’m so sorry! I meant to be reliable. I really did. I took the eggs to keep them safe and now I just don’t know where they are. I know I’m an unpredictable guy when it comes to stuff like this. I should have just been honest about who I am.”

The birds were distraught. The only solution was to empty the ocean to find their eggs. So they began, one beak full of water at a time.

Soon some other birds came by. When they heard what happened, they agreed to help empty the ocean to find the missing eggs, even though they had a bit of doubt about whether the task was even possible.

After awhile, an entire flock of birds had joined the effort, all of them taking one beak of water out of the ocean at a time.

Soon Garuda flew by with Vishnu on his back. When he saw what the birds were doing, he scoffed. “Look, Vishnu! What idiots! Those birds think they can empty the sea. They clearly don’t know the ocean is endless and can never be emptied. Fools!”

Vishnu chided Garuda, “Now, don’t be a jerk. Let’s land and see what they are doing. We might be able to help.”

When they landed, Garuda told the birds he thought they were fools. “It’s impossible to empty the ocean. You guys are really stupid. Give up on your lost eggs. You’ll never get the back.”

The birds were a tad crestfallen but still had a shred of hope. “We know it was a mistake to ask the sea to watch the eggs but we have all of these friends to help us. We’ve been at this for hours but maybe with all of us working together, we can empty just enough of the ocean to see our eggs and get them back?”

Vishnu had been listening to the exchange. “Birds,” he said, “I admire your perseverance and dedication and your hope. You’ve got a lovely community of friends here to help you.”

Then he turned to Garuda and said, “These birds deserve our compassion and kindness. They are working hard and trying their best. Bit by bit is the way to accomplish any task, even the ones that seem the most impossible. The challenging situations are the places that give us all the best opportunities for compassion.”

Vishnu then used his Divine vision to find and return the lost eggs to the birds, who were immensely grateful.

The birds who’d lost their eggs promised they would never leave their eggs unattended on shore again.

The ocean admitted that his true nature was unpredictability and that he wasn’t ever going to be reliable when it came to keep things safe and in one place.

The whole community of birds were bolstered by Vishnu’s commendations and felt good to be of help.

Vishnu felt confident is his assertions that bit by bit, even the seemingly impossible tasks can be manageable.

And Garuda learned his own lesson about his critical and judgmental ways and vowed to be more compassionate king of the birds.

Do you see what I mean when I say that we are every character?

We’ve all had those moments where we make a bad decision like the birds who left the eggs.

We’ve all denied our true nature like the ocean, took on more than we could handle, and let someone down.

We’ve all been in the community of helpers, who work at something that seems impossible.

We’ve all been the judgmental and critical Garuda who fails to find compassion.

We’ve even been Vishnu, with his kindness, wisdom, and Divine vision.

So. Who are you in this moment?

 

 


*Lately there has been a lot of provocative conversation in the yoga world about cultural appropriation, particularly around how white America has been inappropriately taking from Hinduism for profit, secularizing sacred stories, and making light of deeply important cultural references for Indians.

I am a white American woman. I have never visited India and I did not grow up in a Hindu home. I never wish to steal or claim any sacred stories as my own.

It is my intention to offer this version of this story with honor and care. I offer the stories of many traditions as a way to share their wisdom and insight with new audiences with the hope that we can all learn from them.

I’m sincerely open to any and all discussion around the topic of cultural appropriation and my role in it, positive and critical alike.