The True Contents of the Hourglass

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert E. Jackson, PM

There is a story I've heard a couple of times recently about a great leader seeking enlightenment from the local sage. Now, I'm going to paraphrase it here, so please don't flog me if I miss something. However, the gist is, the sage was sought after by many, as he was known to provide great truths and guidance to people on their path. The visitor, puffed up with his own knowledge and leadership positions, approached the sage and demanded to know the way (no, I don't believe the teacher in this story is a Mandalorian). The sage kindly invited the man inside for tea, and while pouring the tea for his visitor, the tea started overflowing. The cup was full and could hold no more. The new visitor exclaimed to the sage, "dude, stop pouring the tea, the cup is full, and the tea is running everywhere." The sage, calmly and coolly, looked at his new student and simply said, "Come back to me when your cup is empty."

If we flip this story, it reminds me of a concept taught to many young people (at least, many young people I've known). The concept is, when somebody is sad, their bucket is empty. They need a drop in their bucket to cheer them up. Now, that drop could be anything…it could be monetary, but a simple smile, or the comfortable feeling of a friend’s handshake (man, it’s been too long), might have a greater and longer-lasting impact. You could argue, and I did this with myself, that these stories have nothing in common. However, with the overlap of one of our working tools, a thought came to me. Based on the title, I imagine you can guess the Hourglass.

For Freemasons, the Hourglass is a symbol of time. Certainly, the hourglass was and remains to be a timekeeper. Carefully crafted with two bulbous ends (or vessels) filled with the exact amount of sand necessary for the calculated duration. When vertically positioned, the sands from the top vessel slowly drop. When the last grain has fallen, so have we. However, if we balance that hourglass equally on both sides, perhaps peace can be found. Removing ourselves from time, we just might be able to escape the depression of our historical stories or the anxiety of our imaginative future. At this very unique time, the vessels of the hourglass are neither empty nor full. That moment where time stops may be an incredible panacea, but we know from Heraclitus that the only thing constant is change. Therefore, even if we were able to hold the hourglass in perfect balance, life events would disrupt that balance, and the sands of time would start flowing again.

Perhaps, instead of seeking that stasis, we need to contemplate the fluidity of the hourglass. As the instrument leans to one side or the other, the ‘bottom’ vessel begins to fill. Eventually, the vessel will become so full that it will be difficult to shift the balance and allow the vessel to empty. In that more heavily weighted end of the hourglass, I see our most concrete and closely held beliefs, the things that weigh us down in life. The heavier that end of the hourglass becomes, the more difficult it can be to loosen the grasp on those tightly held beliefs, and eventually, our teacup will begin to overflow. 

Confirmation bias, and the quest for more evidence to reaffirm our existing thoughts, only throw more weight into this side of the hourglass, more tea into the cup. So how do we let go of the weight in this vessel? I propose that we share those beliefs, display and bestow those ideas with others, not in an effort to convince, but to learn. The result can be a beautiful mixture of those grains of sand, enhancing our own beliefs and ideas with others' beliefs and ideas, to be received and enhance the contents of your own cup.

Returning to the childhood lesson with a drop in the bucket, I personally see these as acts of Love and Kindness. When you share your Love with others, when you share your Kindness, you're taking the Love within your own cup and sharing it with others. If you’re unwilling to share that Love, your ability to receive love will be impacted. After all, if your cup is full of your own Love, how can anybody else offer a drop in that bucket? Furthermore, it seems all too often these days we are looking for mineral or metallic ways to satisfy that Love. It could be money, drugs, video games, etc. Those passions which we may find so difficult to subdue. Additionally, perhaps we can Love ourselves so much, filled with the illusion of superiority, along with the materialistic desires, that the cup has been filled and unwilling to receive the Love of others. 
I would like to assert that as we are pushed to extremes, as we tilt that hourglass more into one direction or the other, the more difficult it becomes to live in harmony with our friends, Brothers, and families. The view of balance has always been difficult for me to adhere to, but there is balance if we observe the sun and the earth. For half of the year, one part of the earth sees more light than darkness. For the other half, the hemispheres switch. However, at no point in time is the earth completely enveloped in darkness nor light. One cannot live without the other (there are always two, just like the Sith). The more we are solidified in our conclusions, away from the ‘child’s mind,’ the more difficult it is to share compassion and Love for those who are different. Likewise, the more ‘things’ we Love, the more emotional and physically attached we become, and less open to accepting and understanding opposing views. Now, I’m not saying that there is a quantitative and measurable amount of possible Love or intelligence (oh, wouldn’t that be nice if we just KNEW). But what I am saying relates to a parable that a dear friend once told me…imagine yourself holding a glass (think beliefs or material desires), and we hold that glass so tightly. There is such a fear that if we release that glass, it will fall and shatter. Now, do you really have a hold on that glass, or does the glass have a hold on you?


Robert Edward Jackson is a Past Master and recovering Secretary of Montgomery Lodge located in Milford, MA. His Masonic lineage includes his Father (Robert Maitland), Grandfather (Maitland Garrecht), and Great Grandfather (Edward Henry Jackson), a founding member of Scarsdale Lodge #1094 in Scarsdale, NY. When not studying ritual, he's busy being a father to his three kids, a husband, Boy Scout Leader, and a solutions engineer to pay for it all. He can be reached at

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