One of the best pieces of advice I’ve encountered comes by way of a Zen master. Ajahn Chah holds up a glass of water before his young student:
Do you see this glass? I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. But when the wind blows and the glass falls off the shelf and breaks, or if my elbow hits it and it falls to the ground, I simply say, “Of course!” When I know that the glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.
Some of you may close yourself off from this, simply because I told you that it comes from Zen teachings. You may believe it to be contrary to your own faith somehow, or perhaps you will think that you are hardly the type of person capable of grasping and practicing anything so deep or philosophical. As I point out in the preface to my forthcoming book, if something is truth, then it existed before anyone put it to words. Likewise, truth inherently works when put into practice. This being the case, it matters very little then whether truth comes by way of Mother Teresa or Mickey Mouse. So I encourage you to stay open and to try. Give it some thought, perhaps during a little time spent in stillness, and see what comes of it.
For me, this truth has resulted in a profound level of peace. I do not expect anything to come my way. And I do not expect anything to last. If I expect anything at all, it is that the unexpected happens all the time. I try to see every glass in my life as “already broken.” Imperfect. Temporary.
This does not lead to negative, Eeyore-like thinking nor to a sense of resignation, as some might speculate. Rather, it keeps everything in perspective, as gifts that are mine only for a short while. And this really does make every minute with something – or someone – precious. Rather than feeling entitled, becoming complacent or taking things for granted, I feel rather lucky on account of all of these “unexpected extras” around me at any given time.
In practical terms, here are some other “broken glasses” the acceptance of which may bring you an increased level of peace:
Expect your kids to blow it. When they do – and they will – don’t be so surprised, irritated or angry over it. Say to yourself, “Of course! They’re kids!” We all went through the learning process. In fact, if we are truly living, we are still going through it.
Expect that the house will not stay neat and tidy at all times, whether you just cleaned it or not.
Expect your spouse, lover or friend to be less than perfect.
Expect “the best laid plans” to go awry. Tell yourself before a big event, “There will be snags. I know this, and that’s OK.”
Expect people to flake out, drop the ball, or leave you in a lurch sometimes. Consider that if someone does come through on what they promised, it is a bonus. Appreciate everything. Hang your stars on nothing.
Expect your new gadget to fall, crack, get lost or stolen, or slip into the pool. It won’t last forever.
Expect the glass to break. Accept it when it does: “Ah, so today is that day I’ve known was coming all along!”
You cannot change what will be. Getting angry, worried or stressed will not fix what goes wrong in life. Rather, these things only prolong the loss, distracting you from present moments spent enjoying the many wonderful things and people that still exist all around you.
Instead, learn to think at every turn, “Oh well, I knew from the start that this would not be perfect or last forever. This glass was already broken before it came my way. I enjoyed it while I had it.” This mindset has worked wonders in my own life. Change does not throw me for long. I easily accept, adapt and move on. And if I can, so can you.
In so doing, you can hold the pieces fondly on the day your glass finally breaks, not in bitterness but remembering the joy you were so fortunate to have had for a time.