30 August 2009

Sunday Zen.

While reading up on minimalism and Zen today, I stumbled across this passage from Thoughts Without A Thinker by Mark Epstein:
“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over, or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, 'Of course.' When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”
I realized that this a much more elegant (and eloquent) way of saying "Live each day as if it were your last."

My first reaction was that this is a backwards philosophy. How could you ever truly enjoy something if you knew that it was bound to fail or break, that your time with it was limited?  Wouldn't that knowledge make the resulting experience bittersweet?  How could you possibly achieve peace of mind if you went through life constantly expecting the end of things?  I couldn't see the benefit.

Though upon further contemplation, it makes a lot of sense to realign your thinking this way.  Nowhere does the passage tell you to adopt a pessimistic attitude about the natural impermanence of life and its experiences.  It doesn't say "Yes, it's beautiful, but it won't last anyway, so you might as well give up now" which is how one might initially interpret it, save for the last sentence.

When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.

The wisdom of this is striking.  I suppose this has to do more with acceptance of the facts that life isn't perfect.  I know that tragedy and hardships are inevitable, but I typically have a hard time coping when things don't go as planned in my personal life.  Inwardly, I tend to see most things (worldviews, relationships, attitudes) as ideal. Maybe if I tried to really understand that there is room for a little acceptance that things are going to change -- and sometimes for the worse, life's journey would be a less stressful and I'd stop bugging out as much.  I don't expect myself to not be disappointed every time -- I think I'm a generally optimistic person -- but if I "hope for the best, but expect the worst" I'd be more prepared to travel through life's valleys.

This is truly a rare moment of personal serendipity because two days ago I had a phone conversation with someone close to me who said essentially the same thing.  "Life is hard," she said, "and you'll always have stress over something.  Don't expect anything to be as easy anymore ... because we've grown up.  But it's how you deal with it and move forward that's important."

It's a difficult philosophy for me to adopt, but absolutely essential in the long run.  Happy Sunday.

1 comment(s):

Me said...

Great passage--makes me think about how I treat the people I care about. It's so easy to think they'll always be there, that you can always send them an email, visit them one day soon, or give them a call because they'll always be around. But the reality is that life is just as fragile as that glass goblet. I find that sometimes I waste so much time holding a grudge or getting into disagreements when I should just get over it and learn to forgive or let go. But I'm working on it, which is the best I can do. No one changes overnight.

I guess you should be expecting a phone call soon. ;)

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