The Glass Is Already Broken

Don't let the inevitability of pain and failure keep your from writing.
Photo by Chris Blakeley via Flickr

We’re all on the edge of oblivion, so make it count.

I’ve got some bad news…you’re not safe.  I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you can down a mountain of vitamins, dutifully recite your evening prayers, wear amulets and rub rabbit feet and still…and still…adversity will arrive at your doorstep, suitcase in hand.  We buy insurance and schedule regular checkups and try, try, try to eat healthy, drink water, walk and be Zen, and practice yoga, and smile. All our efforts are attempts at building an insurmountable indemnity against death and destruction: two forces that cannot be thwarted.

Nothing will stop that wolf moon from rising, and for all you know the protections you invoke and the fortresses you build only leave you vulnerable to unknown threats and unexpected catastrophes.   While we can be smart about our lives and the risks we take (and those we forgo), there’s just so much luck involved in success and failure, and even the most extravagant optimist must admit that we are not headed towards immortality.

For the last several weeks, I feel like one resounding message continues to circle my psyche: let it all go (or, as my friends and I like to say, “forget it, it is what it is.”).

Releasing the past and freeing up our fears and anxieties can be a daunting task.  How do you even begin really?  Even more importantly, how do you sustain this disconnection?  How do you continue to remind yourself that most of the bothers and the frustrations and the fears aren’t worth it in the long run?

How do you maintain equanimity?

Perhaps you can’t, and if you’re focused on living a creative lifestyle, equanimity may not be advisable.  After all, as TS Eliot said, “Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity.”  I’ve always felt that my imagination only amplifies my worry.  After all, not only can I spin out every conceivable “worst case scenario,” I can usually come up with a dozen more deus ex machina scenarios that are Rube-Goldberg-like in their intricacy (though slim on their possibility). When even the smallest misstep has the potential to lead me to my own personal Waterloo, how do I ever take the first step?

I’m not at all suggesting that you give up.  If anything, the inevitability of failure and pain and death and destruction should feel liberating.  It’s such a cliché to ask “what would you do if no one was watching,” but for that question to be truly effective, you must admit that you need to halt your own personal surveillance.  We all struggle to ignore or forget or mitigate the opinions of others, but more often than not we’re the builders of our own obstacles.  We are guilty of crafting those gauntlets that hinder our aspirations.

We are the ones who stand in our own way.

While I pride myself on a subtlety that is, perhaps, mostly delusion, last year I gave up trying to reign myself in and instead gave in to some of my more basic instincts and desires.  I started to question why I was saying “no” all the time.  I began to wonder whether the guidelines and principles I felt bound to follow were a habit or part of a deeper morality.

I started to suspect that I was, perhaps, playing by someone else’s rulebook.

So I started to say “why not?”  I began to challenge basic assumptions.  I started making some scary, heart-pounding, life altering decisions that left me dazed in the aftermath thinking, “what the hell did I just do?!”

In my experience, whenever you find yourself wondering what the hell you just did, you’re on the right track.  I remember thinking the same thing the first night of college, sharing a dorm room with a stranger, hours away from home and everything familiar. I remember thinking the same thing when the plane touched down in Dublin, and I realized I’d just signed up for three months in a foreign country where I didn’t know a soul and wasn’t even sure how to get from the airport to destination. I remember thinking the same thing the first time I kissed the man who first truly and definitively broke my heart.

All those adventures were worth it.  They shaped me into the person I am today. They allowed me to appreciate my blessings in a way that is much more profound and much more personal than if I’d travelled an easy road from A to B. Over the summer, when I found myself washing up (quite literally) on a sunny beach in the middle of the weekday without a claim on my time or a paycheck in my pocket, my first thought was, “what the hell did I just do?”

What I’d done – it turns out – was take a sledgehammer to the self-imagined fences and invented deadbolts that had imprisoned me for far too long.  I, not so subtly, renounced what was no longer working.  I must admit, I burned some bridges, but those fires were necessary; those ashes almost ceremonial.  And the tatters that remained eventually knit themselves into something entirely new…something entirely better.

Something absolutely real.

Remarkably, last night a character on a sitcom introduced me to a lovely insight into destiny and inevitability and the peace that comes with accepting death and destruction.  The character was quoting Achaan Chaa, a Thai meditation master who is known for his rumination on a glass that is already broken.

“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa. “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.”

Inspiration and enlightenment can arrive from unexpected sources – a sitcom, a solitary musing on a shoreline, a look back at an old incarnation that no longer fits.  When we’re kids, we’re told that our sandcastles of sand will not last, yet we build them carefully and methodically nonetheless: a sandy turret here, a hand-carved moat there.   When the bully comes through and stomps it all with relish, we’re shocked and dismayed, but maybe we should have expected the obliteration all along.

Maybe our delight and satisfaction with those castles in the sand would have been fiercer and deeper if we’d built them with the knowledge they were susceptible not just to the tide, but to the kid with the sledgehammer who wants to break it all.

Cover photo by  madpoet_one via Flickr
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