The Bowl of Light

There is a Hawaiian proverb called the Bowl of Light that metaphorically describes the evolution of the human spirit.  It explains that when we are born, we are like a shining bowl of light that represents our innately radiant, untarnished souls.  When we operate on the foundation of love, respect, and gratitude, the light serves as kindling to ignite and spread more luster.  On the other hand, when we are critical, judgmental, or harbor resentment, we drop a stone into the bowl that blocks out some of our light.  The more we allow stones to accumulate in our bowls, the more we become dull, stagnant, and burdened by their weight.  To bring the light back into our lives, the proverb encourages us to “huli the bowl”, which means turning it upside down to shake out the stones.

While that solution seems practical, letting go of stones isn’t always such a simple task.  Even with enough self-awareness to see that stones can perpetuate destructive thought patterns and poor coping skills, carrying them may feel like a safer option than discovering what lurks beneath the void they fill.  For example, I fixate on every pucker, crease, and blemish on my body out of fear that accepting my imperfections would foster complacence with my own mediocrity.  I have been stingy with forgiveness and deemed others unworthy of compassion when it has been easier to hold a grudge than to swallow my pride and admit I was hurt.  I haven’t made peace with accepting the apologies I will never receive, but still long to hear.  Other stones aren’t so heavy; they’re more like pebbles that bury themselves at the bottom of the bowl, only to rattle around and come loose at random.  For example, I’ll jolt myself awake at 3:00AM to replay the time I blurted out, “Good, how are you?” in response to a toll booth worker who said good morning or “Thanks, you too!” to a waiter who told me to enjoy my meal.  I ruminate over my faux pas as a constant reminder not to repeat them.  For better or for worse, some of my stones are wedged tightly into my bowl and won’t budge easily.  They aim to protect me, but could use some repurposing.

The good news is that the direct translation of “huli” is transform.  In other words, the proverb doesn’t simply call upon us to dump the bowl and get over it.  When we aren’t ready to let go, we have the choice to polish our stones until they transform into crystals.  This transformation not only allows the light to pass through, but also gives us the capacity to shine in prismatic, multifaceted patterns that reveal new perspectives we wouldn’t have seen had it not been for the stone dropping in our bowl.  Polishing our stones teaches us the strength of our character by shaping adversity into opportunity.  Essentially, we have the power to reframe feelings and experiences that once buried us into ones that enlighten us.

I first heard the Bowl of Light proverb on an ecological jungle reserve in San Pancho.  At twenty-five years old, this had been my first time out of the country.  Though most of my friends had studied abroad in college or found other opportunities to fill their passports with stamps, I had always found excuses as to why the timing wasn’t right.  Maybe I was too busy.  Maybe I was trying to save money.  Maybe I had a tomato plant I couldn’t leave unsupervised for the week.  Maybe I had JUST promised my second cousin’s best friend I’d be at her cat’s bar mitzvah that weekend.  The truth was that I had crippling anxiety, an inflexible relationship with food, and I was unwilling to so much as dip a toe into the moat I had dug around my comfort zone to keep out that which I could not control.  So when I was invited on my dream yoga retreat to volunteer at a no-kill animal shelter and the first thought that ran through my head was, “but what if they expect me to eat simple carbs?”, I realized my comfort zone was no longer swaddling me; it was suffocating me.  Despite remembering only enough Spanish to ask for the bathroom, not traveling with a buddy or having cell reception to contact home in case of an emergency, and praying with every fiber of my being that the TripAdvisor reviewer who said he got crabs in his cabin was referring to ones of “the Little Mermaid’s crustacean pal” variety and not the “uncomfortable Uber to Planned Parenthood” kind, I booked the getaway.  In the months leading up to the yoga retreat, I was troubled to find myself eager to get the trip over with just to be able to say I did it.  Knowing that someday I would probably regret white-knuckling this incredible opportunity I was so fortunate to experience, I vowed to try my best to be present and open to receiving whatever I was meant to gain on the trip without worrying about proving anything to anyone once I got home.

After a shaky attempt to meditate my jitters away on the evening I arrived in San Pancho, I was told the story of the Bowl of Light from a Shala in the mountains overlooking a sunset so beautiful, it washed over me with a soothing reassurance that I was exactly where I needed to be in that moment. As I sat in stillness feeling the dampness of twilight raise goosebumps on my skin, I resolved to begin to repurpose that which weighed me down into something resilient and capable of shedding light on a new perspective.


Thank you Dia Moeller for once again turning my long-winded, flighty explanations of abstract concepts in my brain into something beautiful.  You are as refreshingly unpretentious as you are extraordinarily talented.