The Story of the Cow: When Routines Limit Us

The Story of the Cow: When Routines Limit Us

Last update: 11 June, 2018

Routines can trap us. But we forget this because they are so comfortable, so safe and we get used to them so quickly. However, the story of the cow is a wake-up call. A wake-up call to the things we don’t see in our daily lives but that affect us more than we think.

We’re going to learn what the cow really represents, what we get from it and how dependent we can become on what it gives us. But above all, it will help us discover what the cow is in our own life.

“Routine is another way of dying”.


The story of the cow

The story of the cow starts when a wise teacher walks through the countryside with his disciple. One day they find a humble wooden house inhabited by a couple and their three children. They are all poorly dressed, with dirty and torn clothes. Their feet are bare and their home looks like they live in extreme poverty.

The Master asks the father what they’e doing to survive, since there is no industry or commerce around, and no wealth is seen anywhere. Calmly, the father answered, “Look, we have a cow that provides us with a gallon of milk every day. We sell part and use it to buy other things. We use the other part for our own consumption. This is how we survive.” 

The story of the cows about routines.


The teacher thanks him for the information, says goodbye, and leaves. He tells his disciple, “Look for the cow, take it to the precipice and push it into the ravine.”

The young man is shocked, because the cow is the only means of subsistence for that humble family. But he assumes that his teacher must have his reasons. With great regret, he takes the cow to the precipice and pushes it off. The scene stays etched in his mind for many years.

The disciple goes back

After some time the disciple, feeling guilty for what he did, decides to leave his teacher, return to that place and apologize to the family he did so much damage to. As he approaches, he observes that everything is changed. It is now a beautiful house surrounded by trees and children playing, with a car parked in front of it.

The young man is sad and upset because he thinks that the humble family must have sold everything to survive. When he asks around town, people say that they are still there, that they had not left. He runs into the house and realizes that it is inhabited by the same family as before. Then, he asks the father what happened. The father, with a broad smile, answers:

“We had a cow that provided us with milk and with which we survived. But one lucky day the cow fell off a cliff and died. Then, we were forced to do other things, to develop other skills that we had never imagined possessing. In this way we began to prosper and our life changed.”

Comfort in doing “the usual”

Perhaps, like the disciple, you were horrified by the teacher’s decision to throw the cow off the precipice. However, this story is a metaphor about what we have to do with routines that make us feel comfortable in our lives, but at the same time limit us.

Walking off a cliff.

When that poor family was left without the support they were clinging to, they had no choice but to look for alternatives. But instead of finding just more poverty, they found a way to prosper, something they had never imagined. If the cow had never disappeared from their lives, they would continue living in poverty. They would never have left it or believed that they could go further.

Some people appreciate that there are moments in their life that may be painful and difficult but force them to leave their comfort zone. Human beings seek safety, comfort, and certainty. But when all this breaks down, we discover skills and qualities we never knew before. We were asleep.

Stop and reflect on your routines

The story of the cow urges us to consider what routines might be limiting us. It may be a job we don’t like but that gives us security; it could be the satisfaction of saving up to travel but never traveling because of unforeseen circumstances…

The story of the cow gives us a chance to reflect on how we are living. Especially if we complain about how we live. It is not necessary to wait for a teacher to come and push our cow off a cliff. We can, from today on, look beyond our routines into the potential we have within. Because we are not limited. We’re just putting obstacles in our own way.

Each one of us has a cow in our lives. Which is yours?

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.