Big Rocks First

A teacher puts a gallon jar on the desk and sets a pile of fist sized rocks next to it. She asks the class how many rocks they think will fit. As they call out their guesses, she places one rock after another in the jar. When she asks the class if it is full, they reply with a resounding “Yes!”

But wait she says. Then she brings out a container of gravel. The smaller bits of gravel lodge amongst the larger rocks. Next, sand poured into the jar slides into the spaces between the rocks and gravel. Finally water is poured in to fill the jar to the brim.

What’s the point ? If you were to do it in reverse the big rocks wouldn’t fit.

What does this have to do with Unifying Principles? The big rocks represent what is most important to us. The gravel, sand and water are the activities of daily living that surround the more deeply meaningful activity.

This simple demonstration encourages us to plan and prioritize the important stuff first. The dishes will get done, the garbage will get taken out. But your exercise routine, time to paint, write poetry, practice piano, take a hike with a friend, meditate, play crazy eights with your kids….

I invite you to take a moment for reflection. Think of a week when you were able to put the big rocks first.  Usually there is a sense of bodily satisfaction from engaging in what holds meaning.  As an added bonus, the “filler” material is often more satisfying as well. For me, writing this newsletter is a big rock. And I fully expect that grocery shopping and cooking later today will be enhanced by having taken the time to be creative, to be of benefit and to express myself through writing.

Getting to Know Your Big Rocks

To start to name the big rocks we can explore three categories:

*Self Care
Self care includes those things that nourish us (not to be confused with “shoulds”), physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  Physically we might do yoga or take walks or jog. Emotionally we might feel restored by time to reflect or share with a friend. Mentally a little Sudoku or learning a new skill might do the trick. And spiritually, prayer, centering, meditation, time in nature can all restore and renew.

Contact is fairly straightforward. And yet, I want to be explicit. Contact isn’t just showing up at a party or having lunch with a friend. It is a feeling of connection when you go to a party or have lunch with a friend. It’s when you walk away from that lunch with a smile of satisfaction, walking away feeling more energized than when you entered. Think back over the last week. What are the moments or events that have been life giving in that way?

If I reflect on this question, I see myself wrestling on the family room floor with my son playfully trying to pry some m and m’s from his hand.

I see myself having an amazing meal at a new restaurant with my best friend sharing deeply, laughing heartily.

I see myself meeting with a group of students that I supervise. One of them is taking a turn at leading us through some visualizations. I feel a warm glow, sitting back and appreciating the gifts each student brings to the group.

I see myself stopping in to say hello to an office mate who is making a fresh flower arrangement. A few words exchanged, a quick hug.

And Meaning?

If you were to be sent to a desert island with three people, three books and three objects what would they be? Would you take your partner or the Pope. The Bible or Mark Twain or a book of poetry? A basketball or a bottle of fine scotch or your family photo album?

Contemplating these questions helps us to play with and clarify our big rocks of meaning. Considering meaning and purpose each week helps to keep us on track feeling alive and coherent. When we regularly contemplate these questions, meaning begins to infuse our day to day lives.

Simple Summary


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