Sunday, October 7, 2012

Not Zen 26: The Proper Measure

by Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons
In a shallow, clear-water lagoon there lived an octopus. He rested under a cowrie shell when he was newborn. He moved into a giant clam shell when he grew older. At each dusk and dawn, he emerged to hunt for fish, crabs, crayfish, and mollusks in the sparkling, white sands.

A human spear-fisher also hunted in the wading depths of the lagoon. He learned to recognize the octopus. They came to an understanding and let each other take prey in peace. Sometimes at night the human would sit on the beach by the lagoon and talk to the octopus.

One day, the octopus felt compelled to swim out to sea.

"I must leave," he told the man. He swam close to shore and waved his body.

"You are going to coral reef, like the other big hunters," the man replied. He gestured out to sea. "You have already stayed here too long. All of the big hunters have gone there except for me."

The octopus had hardly been aware of the reef at the edge of the lagoon. Now he  turned towards it and realized that the human was right. That was his destination. It would be his new home.

"I will return to visit someday," he promised. Then he left.

When he returned a month later at dusk, he encountered the human knee-deep in the water. The man held his spear but faced the shore so he didn't notice his old friend. A loud ripple in the water was the announcement.

"Is that you, octopus?" said the man. He turned and smiled at the sight.

"It is." The octopus stretched. "But seeing my old home makes me sad.  The sands are as beautiful as I remember. The waters are so calm you can feel every minnow. I wish I lived here still. Yes, I should move back."

"You think so? Well, your giant clam shell is still here. I caught a crab under it yesterday."

The octopus hurried to the shell. It had not moved far or perhaps the man had returned it almost to its usual place. But the blue and white shell looked small. The octopus had to check it for the red edging and the pit marks that made it his, just to be sure. He tried to slip under it.

"I thought so," said the human as he approached. "You don't fit."

"Impossible," said the octopus. He tried to pull himself in tighter.

"I can still see most of you." The man crouched. "I don't have to lean down very far to see half of your body."

"How did this happen?" wailed the octopus.

"My friend, you lived in these shallows for many years. This place kept you small. You did not challenge yourself. You thought you were mighty. And you are but this was never the correct measure for you. You've left only for a little while and already you're growing to your natural size."


  1. I just love this blog. I only found it today, but I have read most of the stories already. This one in particular is probably my favorite, because it got me thinking about my own situation in life. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Aaron, I'm really glad to hear it. This one is dear to my heart. Some of these stories are from long ago but this one is recent, written while thinking of friends who were in this sort of transition.