November 20, 2013

Already Broken. ~ Susan Kraft

This summer (well, let’s just say this lifetime) I’ve been learning a few lessons in impermanence; and I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not alone in this.

I lost both of my parents by the time I was in my early 30s and subsequently my family exploded—and then my marriage. Between one thing and another, it felt a little like getting caught up in a rough, cold ocean and being thrown onto shore over and over again—sandy, salty, shivering.

To keep the storm at bay I tried to make my life smaller, safer. 

My young daughter and I kind of holed up. I tried not to need too many people or too many things. I had very few possessions from my parents, most of it lost to family squabbles, but the one thing I did have was my mother’s jewelry.

I needed money so some of it had to be sold, but the rest I guarded like 2Spot does her catnip mouse. Those little pieces of gold jewelery served as a kind of talisman and offered some kind of continuity, too. 

If my daughter would never know her grandmother, at least she could have her fabulous 1980s earrings.

Last month I noticed that a number of pieces were missing—just like that, gone. 

Had I squirreled them away somewhere and forgotten? Had I taken them on a trip and left them? Could they have possibly been stolen? I had absolutely no idea, not a clue. I spent a few weeks feeling frantic and a little insane; alternating between self-judgment and anger towards an imagined thief.

Then I remembered a wonderful story that I’d heard from my teacher, Jack Kornfield. He’d heard it from his teacher in Thailand, Ajahn Chah.

Chah showed his students a beautiful antique glass from which he drank his tea every day. When asked if he was concerned for its safety, he replied that the glass was already broken. He said that although he loved the glass, and that it held the water beautifully—reflecting light like nothing he had ever seen, emitting a beautiful tone when tapped—for him, it was already broken. And that when it was knocked over, or shattered, as it inevitably must be one day, he would say, “of course”.  

The glass was precious in its impermanence (and using and enjoying it everyday became a spiritual practice in letting go).

This is a lesson clearly not just about the sentimental or valuable material objects that we wish to hang on to, but about every material thing—including you and me. In yoga this is sometimes discussed as the nature of prakriti—meaning anything which is created exists for some time and is inevitably destroyed, or passes away.

The Buddhist psychiatrist, Mark Epstein, who was also one of Ajahn Chah’s students, says:

As with the glass, we try to make ourselves more real than we really are and we struggle and squirm and fight to maintain that illusion. We fear that if we surrender to the self’s fragility, we will break, not realizing the inherent freedom in being already broken. 

Yet, somehow we forget this lesson again and again. And with the things we love, and especially with the people we love, we have this illusion that we can hold it all together; and that others should as well.

So time to stop hoarding my catnip mouse. I am going to wear the few pieces of my mother’s jewelry that are left and pass them on to my daughter much sooner than I’d planned.

I have an unfortunate tendency to lose things and so does she. It’s not great, but it’s okay.

It’s the nature of things.

Every in-breath has an out-breath, each one precious and beauty-filled—enjoy.

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Assistant Editor: Laura Ashworth/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Flickr



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