The Boy and the Waterfall: A Mindfulness Allegory

In a forest hidden from the rest of the world sat a large firm rock in a vast and empty basin. High above the rock was a cliff. One day a tiny boy emerged from the rock and a gentle stream of water began to flow onto him from the cliff above. As the water passed over the boy, it slowly started to fill the empty basin below. As time passed, the boy became aware of the water flowing over him and into the basin. The water's flow did not bother the boy, but he noticed that while the flow was constant, the condition of the water was always changing. Sometimes the water would rush. At other times the water would become hot. Still, at other times the water would slow to a trickle or become cold. The boy did not always like the way the water felt, so he would often look up toward the top of the cliff to see if he could tell what the falling water would feel like once it reached him. The boy also discovered that he could dip his hands and feet into the basin of the water below to remind himself of what the water was like that had already passed over him. 

As the boy grew, he spent more and more time gazing at the cliff above and into the pool below. While the boy could still feel the water pouring over him, he became so preoccupied with the water at the top of the cliff and the water in the pool below that the feeling of the water as it ran over his body became but a distant sensation. 

Eventually, while gazing at the cliff above, the boy realized that he could swat at the water falling over him, that he could splash it away, and shield his head from the water with his hands and arms. The boy became preoccupied with splashing the water, batting it to and fro, and contorting his body to change his experience of the water as it flowed over him. After many moons of doing this, the boy fooled himself into thinking he was the master of the water. But one day, the water suddenly became so hot that it burned his skin. The boy tried all his tricks—swatting the water, splashing it away, and huddling in a ball trying to hide from it. Unable to escape the painful burning sensation, the boy experienced suffering. He dipped his hands and feet into the pool below to remind himself of times when the water was cooler and more pleasant, and he gazed at the cliff above in hopes of glimpsing and end to the hot water. Soon, the water returned to a comfortable temperature, and the boy was relieved. He returned to his old habits of splashing the water, swatting at it, and twisting his body, all to change the experience of how the water felt as it flowed over him. As water continued to fill the pool below, the boy also spent more time dipping his hands and feet in it. 

One day, as the boy stood gazing at the cliff above, a storm unleashed a torrent of rain, causing the flow of water to rush heavily over his body. Almost pinned to the rock by the force of the water, the boy tried in desperation to break free. None of his tricks that gave him the illusion of mastery over the water worked. The boy felt pain as the water hit heavily upon his body. The boy suffered as he realized he could not escape the raging water. But, because the water was ever changing and because even an unpleasant period would eventually end, the water returned to a calmer flow. This time, the boy sat for a few moments to enjoy the calm water as it poured over him before he returned to his usual gazing above, splashing, swatting, and staring into the pool below, finally becoming oblivious to the sensation of the water as it flowed over him. 

On another occasion, as the boy sat staring into the water below, he was shocked by the sharp sensation of icy cold water piercing his awareness. At first, the boy splashed, swatted, crouched, gazed above at the cliff, and dipped his hands and feet in the pool below as he tried to escape his experience. The boy was in pain. The boy suffered. Shivering and exhausted, the boy went limp. Lying on the rock, the boy continued to feel the discomfort of the freezing water as it poured over him, but he did not fight it. Instead, he just felt it. 

In due time, the water returned to a comfortable temperature. But as it did, rather than being distracted by the cliff above or the pool below, or trying to manipulate water, the boy gave his attention to the water as it flowed over him. As he did this, he began to notice and feel things that he never had before—how the water rippled down his back, how it flowed between his fingers and toes, how it caressed his hair. Sometimes the water would cause pain again, but during these times the boy sat and observed the feeling of the water, just as he did when it was comfortable. When the water became uncomfortable, the boy still felt pain, but he did not suffer. The boy learned to spend less time gazing into the pool below or staring up at the cliff above, and instead experienced the sensations of the water, whatever they may be, with gratitude as it flowed over him.