Rocks, Pebbles, Sand, Water

focus on what matters

This is an old story and I’ve seen it in many places in many versions. I’m not sure who wrote the original (if you do, please let me know), but it has a kind of timeless quality about it. I want to share it because aside from the more mundane, though still important, meaning that can be derived from it there is also a deeper, mystical layer to it – one that goes along with the words of Jesus who said:

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ … For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Matt. 6:31-34

seek first the kingdom

A teacher walks into a classroom, stands at the front of the class and sets a large one gallon wide-mouthed Mason jar on the table. Silently and carefully, he places a collection of fist sized rocks one at a time, into the jar. When the jar is filled to the top and no more rocks can fit inside, he asks the class if the jar is full.



The class unanimously agrees that the jar is full. The teacher says, “Really? Are you sure?” He then reaches under the table and pulls out a bucket of pebbles. He dumps some pebbles in, and shakes the jar, causing pieces of the smaller stones to work themselves down into the space between the big rocks. Then he asks the group once more, “Is the jar full?”

By this time the class is on to him. “Probably not,” one of them answers. “Good!” he says and reaching under the table again he brings out a bucket of sand. He dumps the sand into the jar, and allows it to get into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asks the question, “Is the jar full?” “No!” the class shouts. “Excellent!” he replies and taking out a pitcher of water he proceeds to fill the jar to the brim.



The class laughs, and it is clear to all that the jar is now finally full. The teacher smiles and steps around to the front of the table saying, “Now suppose this jar represents your life, what does this experiment show you?”

A bold student replies, “No matter how busy you think you are you can always take on more.”

“That is one view,” he replies.

Then he looks out at the class making eye contact with everyone, “Here’s how I see it. The rocks represent the BIG things in your life – what you will value at the end of your life – your family, your partner, your health, fulfilling your hopes and dreams. The pebbles are the other things in your life that give it meaning, like your job, your house, your hobbies, your friendships. The sand and water represent the ‘small stuff’ that fills our time, like watching TV or running errands.”

Looking out at the class again, he asks, “Now, what do you think would happen if I had started with the water, the sand or the pebbles?”

“The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”


“What are the ‘big rocks’ in your life? Your children….Your loved ones…Your education… Your dreams…A worthy cause…..Teaching or mentoring others…. Doing things that you love…Time for yourself…. Your health….Your significant other – Whatever they are remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first, or you’ll never get them in at all. If you spend all your time worrying about the little stuff (the sand, the water) then you’ll fill your life with these little worries that don’t really matter, and you’ll never have the real quality time you need to spend on the big, important stuff (the big rocks).”

So, what are the “big rocks” for someone on a mystical path?  As Jesus, and indeed all spiritual masters, would instruct the “big rocks” are Enlightenment, the Kingdom of Heaven, Awakening, Awareness, and Self-Realization. Other things – material things – are certainly worthy of consideration. They are fun, entertaining, challenging, and productive – but if you have chosen the mystic path you must make the quest for self-realization your primary task. This is the “big rock” that must take precedence in your life. Once this is achieved you will find all your other needs and desires gratified.

So, therefore, wake up! Wake yourself up anyway you can. And then you can proceed to wake up others.

man in praise

Posted in Storyteller

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