One of my favorite fairy tales is the one about the traveler who teaches the old woman how to make “nail soup.” It is a cold, wintry night in the forest, and a traveler comes upon a hut. He knocks on the door and asks for shelter. The old woman who lives in the hut says he can sleep in the shed, but she cannot give him any food. The traveler thanks her for providing shelter. He says he does not need food, but if she lets him in by the fire, he will show her how to make soup from a nail. The woman, who is rather miserly, is excited by the idea of being able to make soup from a nail, so she lets him in and puts a big soup pot filled with snow to melt over the fire. The traveler puts the nail in the soup and says, “what a wonderful broth we will have from this nail. If we only had a potato or two, it would be even better.” The woman roots around in her hoard and puts a potato in the pot. “Now it will be even more wonderful,” said the traveler. “If we only had an onion to add, it would be the most savory soup you have ever tasted.” The woman goes to her winter stores and finds an onion. The traveler sniffs the soup, “mmm, how wonderful it smells, if we had a carrot or a parsnip, it would be gracious enough for any guest.” The woman, trembling with the excitement of creating soup from a nail, adds both a carrot and a parsnip. At this point, the broth is starting to take on thickness and color, and the hut is redolent of bubbling hot vegetable soup. “Oh for some salt and a little meat,” cried the man, “and this soup would truly be fit for a king.” “From only a nail, soup fit for a king!” exclaimed the old woman, “that I must have.” She added a precious pinch of salt and some meat dried to last through the winter. The soup, of course, was delicious, the traveler well-fed, and the woman happy to share (even if she was tricked).
Sometimes we need a reminder of our abundance, both inner and outer, to be invited to bring out all we have so that we can better serve. Just as the traveler with the nail reminded the isolated old woman of how to share her abundance, sometimes we need to remind ourselves of what we have rather than what we are missing. I find that when I am feeling more empty than full, coming to my mat and my meditation cushion and practicing gratitude quickly helps me remember.