In my daughter’s preschool classroom they taught them the concept of “bucket fillers” and “bucket dippers”. The bucket is the physical, mental, spiritual YOU. Have you heard this before? It is based on some of the first concepts of Buddhism I was ever exposed to.
For my daughter it was about giving and taking; doing Good, being Kind, sharing and cultivating a generous heart, these were all ways to fill not only your bucket but other’s buckets. Being selfish, mean spirited, hurting others, these were all ways that not only took from other’s buckets, but also from your own. At every turn, the children were asked about their choices and if the were being a “filler” or a “dipper”. It was a convenient and easily accessible analogy for the kids and lead to longer more detailed conversations about Buddhism in our household and what it really meant to give and take.
I have heard a few stories used to teach this lesson over the years to young and old and i have been thinking about the concept often of late. Why? A version of this lesson has made it into my own explanations of what it means to share partners, to love openly and to be ethically non-monogamous.
I was a t a birthday party for one of my oldest friends and most favorite people and ended up in a conversation with a girl who couldn’t understand the dynamics of what being polyamorous meant. Partially this was logistics (hold on..she goes out with..and you do him and they do…AHHHHHH! *insert exploding head*)
Onward friends, to the hard won wisdom found, when I try to explain foreign concepts in simple terms to people that already think I’m a nutter.
Ah yes buckets. Buckets are not sexy or cute, they make me think of mopping floors, puke and other unpleasant ways to spend a day off. Lets switch to bowls, okay?
We each have a bowl (in my minds eye, mine would be a lovely hand carved wooden one that is wide and deep), in it lies all that we have to give and all we have to take.
Doing things for others, whether we’re talking Good deeds or charity , are well known ways to be happier, because the act of giving time, money or care makes us both happy and more likely to give more.
This also means , showing up for the people in your life even when it’s inconvenient, smiling at a stranger, spending quality time with friends and making dinner can all be acts of kindness that fill our bowls. I feel like most of us already know this stuff, but it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves about the wonderful selfishness of giving. It is the kind of reciprocity that feeds instead of drains.
Another aspect of this lies in how we fill our bowls with self-care. Reading, going to the movies, meditation, exercise, bike rides, flour fights in the kitchen, baths or maybe just taking a nap on the couch can all add to what we have in our bowls and therefore what we have to give.
One more side this idea is accepting acts of kindness, time, energy and love. This is the part I always had a hard time with. Accepting other’s care has always been difficult. I like to take care of people. I like to feed them, listen and provide safe harbor; yet my life and this year in particular have been lessons in humility and gratitude. In the act of accepting what was being offered, my relationships were strengthened in ways I couldn’t have predicted. I realized again how fucking arrogant I can be and how that arrogance blinds me to other people’s need to participate, make a difference and be present. Maybe one day I’ll stop needing to learn this one, but I highly doubt it.
So how does this new-agey touchy-feely liberal hogwash tie into the sexy stuff?
I’m so glad you asked!
As I tried to explain at my friends’ party, the ability to share is all in how you think about it.
First I am giving my partner freedom, trust and acceptance. All rare commodities that make me happier because I can give that gift to someone I love. If someone else speaks to an aspect of their needs that I can not supply, I’m glad they found it. This could be sexually or a whole host of other things. I am somewhat of a homebody, I lack some common levels of empathy and generally speaking I’m rougher rather than soft in most aspects of life and love. I do not expect to fulfill every need nor should I be expected to do so. I can give them those things through acceptance, trust and freedom to explore. As an aside, if you look around and can’t appreciate the value of these gifts, you are an idiot and deserve to lose them.
Second, I am caring for myself when I am taking care of my needs. The easiest example I can give is my bi-sexuality. Do you know the Kinsey Scale? It’s a common tool to test sexuality . I am a 3, equally homosexual and heterosexual. To only have one gender as an option is like always being a little bit hungry , no matter how happy I am. Having both genders in my life makes me feel balanced and more whole. Feeding that need instead of pretending that it either doesn’t exist or feeling like I’m wrong for wanting it in the first place, is pretty wonderful and fills me up in ways (yes I totally see the pun…) I can’t explain easily without going off the mushy deep-end here. This is an easy example, but there are all kinds of self-care we each can do to fill our bowls so we have more to give.
Third (I DO so love lists), I have no need to change anyone. This means, I am not looking to any one partner to be anything they are not. I know that when I am completely accepted, it is …freedom. We are all imperfect, dented and a little bit bruised from this life. I have scars and I have come to realize that I am not the only one and I find them the most beautiful part of the people I love. I can fill my cup and others’s as well simply by giving that back. I can accept what they have to give, accept it without expectation of more and always be satisfied. Acceptance is such a precious gift. I get to accept what my partners have to offer freely and with joy, I don’t need any one of them to be something they are not and they get my love and acceptance for who and what they are. This is such a drastic shift from the place I have often found myself, in a place of want, where needs are not being met simply because neither person can be everything. No one is satisfied and everyone feels like they are wanting. It seems really foolish to think it could be otherwise.
I am not jealous, because there is no need to be. My partners are telling me what’s going on, I am a participant in their world. Additionally, their happiness makes me happy. Why shouldn’t it? I am the person they bring their stories, worries and adventures to and I love that. Who else should they talk to? I love them and I trust they love me and if they don’t that’s okay too. Yes, I am not dependent on any one person to keep me upright and fulfilled but that isn’t even the point. The point is twofold. I don’t want them to be with me if I am not making them happy, if I can not be something they accept, love and are accepted and loved by. I want them to have that! I really do. My role in their life way be a for a reason, a season or a lifetime but in any of those situations it is not dependent on a single role or title I need to define them by or be defined by, myself.
I just dig them and that’s enough to fill our cups.