The young man was feeling anxious and troubled about his life and his future, and so one day he decided to take a walk along the beach to try to resolve some of his problem. It was very early in the morning, and the beach was, thankfully, deserted – or so he thought. For as he turned a corner he could see in the distance a strange old man sitting on a rock by the edge of the sea. He had a long, sad face with a white beard and was wearing silver robe with a strange pattern on it that the young man had never seen before.
As the young man walked closer, he noticed that the old man was very slowly and meticulously picking up the stone and pebbles from the shore. Curious, he walked up to the rock where he was sitting, and, as he did so, the old man raised his head to look at him.
‘Why are you so troubled?’ said the old man. ‘What is the question that you are trying to answer?’
The young man, somewhat taken aback by this pertinent inquiry, replied, almost without thinking, ‘I can’t seem to work out what’s most important to my life. There’s so much to do – how do I know what to do first?’
‘That’s an easy question to answer,’ said the old man and, picking up a crude glass jar that has been washed up by the sea, he started to fill it with the rocks, each of them about the size of his fist. When he had filled the jar to the top with rocks, he turned to the young man.
‘Is the jar full?’
The young man agreed that it was.
The old man nodded wordlessly, and then picked up a handful of small pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly and the pebbles effortlessly rolled into the areas between the rocks. He turned again to the young man and this time he smiled.
‘Now is the jar full?’
The young man smiled back and agreed once more that it was.
Again, without words, the old man reached down and picking up a handful of fine sand poured into jar. The sand trickled through all the nooks and crevices left by the pebbles and the rocks. This time there were no spaces left and the jar was completely full.
‘Now,’ said the old man, ‘this is the answer of your question. The rocks represent the most important things in a person’s life – whether that be family, partner or children, health, spiritually or wisdom - so that, if you lost everything else and only this were left, your life would still feel full.’
He went on, ‘The pebbles represent the other things that matter to you –maybe material things like money, house, clothing or job. The sand’, he said, running some of it through his fingers, ‘is everything else, the small stuff, the stuff that doesn’t really matter.’
As the young man continued to listen, he said, ‘Some people make the mistake of putting the sand into the jar first and, if they do –why, of course there is no more room left for the pebbles and certainly not the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the little inconsequential things, you will never have room for the things that are really important to you, things that are critical to your happiness. Take care of the rocks first –the things that rally matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.’
(Taken from Tales for Change by Margareth Parkin)