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The Cup is Already Broken

Appreciate what is

beautiful tea cup
The finest cup will one day be broken

In his book, The Wise Heart, Jack Kornfield tells a story about his meditation master, Ajahn Chah, who held up a fine Chinese teacup and said something startling:

‘To me this cup is already broken.’

Then he explained what he meant:

'Because I know its fate, I can enjoy it fully here and now. And when it’s gone, it’s gone.’

This reminds me of the time I piled the five kids into our old van and headed into town. The van had a faulty fuel gauge, so I didn’t know if we’d get there. We were out in the country with no fuel stations to pull into and I had visions of being stranded on the side of the road, waiting to be rescued. The kids sensed my anxiety.

‘Will we get there?’ the eldest asked.

I opened my mouth to say, ‘Of course we will,’ but something stopped me, and instead I said, ‘I don’t know.’

Becoming philosophical, I talked about the fact that there was either enough fuel in the van to get to town, or not quite enough. The outcome was already decided. We just didn’t know what the outcome would be yet. All we could do was wait and see. If we got to town, great! If the engine coughed a few times and fell silent, well, we’d have to hope someone helpful came along.

Surprisingly, this answer eased the tension in the van.

Accepting that we may or may not reach town made a big difference to that trip. We laughed at the predicament, listened carefully to the sound of the engine and appreciated each farm gate we passed. What could’ve been a nail-biting half-hour became a memorable trip.

We made it into town, the fuel gauge was fixed, and we never faced that situation again. But the comment I made that day – ‘I don’t know’ – has stayed with me. I use it frequently because it eases the tension that arises when I try to predict or control what’s happening around me.

Of course, I make short-term and long-term plans. I manage my finances, carefully wash my new china cup, eat well so I can live to be at least eighty, value relationships and work hard. But I know that nothing in life is a sure thing except what is in this moment. Everything else is impermanent. Unpredicable. Unknown.

The cup is already broken.

The van could run out of fuel.

I may not reach eighty. (I may not reach seventy!)

But when I accept that the beautiful cup I was gifted this past Christmas will one day be broken, I enjoy its presence in my life to the full now.

When we accepted that the van could run out of fuel before we reached town, we appreciated every moment the engine ticked over.

When I accept that I may not reach eighty, I live deeply in this moment that I do have, because that’s all I’ve got for sure.

Living this way removes the tight hold we usually try to have on things, situations, others and ourselves.

And when we let go of our tight hold, we set ourselves free from fear.

We relax.

We appreciate life.

Peace arises.

We enjoy what is, to the full.

With love, Marlane

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