“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.”
From Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective by Mark Epstein.
On this 45th day of Los Angeles’ “Shelter in Place” initiative, I sit with my Barcelona coffee mug in hand, treasuring all that is already broken.
Memories, still vivid in my mind’s eye, but someday broken too. And new experiences that may leave us feeling a little cheated, but that I treasure just the same, knowing that these, too, will become memories, and that even the memories will shatter one day:
…Standing shoulder to shoulder in a circle with my students on the first day of class; setting our intentions as we pass a ball of yarn around, weaving ourselves together in an interconnected web that we promise to uphold. This spring, we have stretched the threads almost to the breaking point, through the world-wide web that is even more invisible but just as real. But we each still get to hold our little piece of it, for now.
…Sitting on the filthy floor (how I hated that floor) of the room where our precious B-Club was held, watching young people of all ages move freely as they learned and played together. Now, I smile at video clips of those days, as our team gathers in a Zoom Room to analyze the embodied nature of learning. I relish the connections we are managing to sustain with the kids in our program, through letter exchanges, Remind App messages, and a new and interactive web page. Not the same as playing together, but precious just the same.
…Eating lunch at a faculty meeting in a small room in Moore Hall, another floor beneath us scuffed by countless footsteps in and out. (I never thought I would say that I missed going to faculty meetings, or the opportunity to re-scuff that now-polished floor.) Now, I delight in the tiny glimpses we get of each other’s lives while we struggle through Zoom Gloom meetings: our children, our pets, the books on our shelves or the paintings on our walls or the virtual backgrounds we choose to represent ourselves with. I am happy to see the faces of these dear, smart colleagues, to know they are out there, in the world, doing their good work, fighting the good fight, coming together as best we can with our shared commitments to make the world a better place.
…Running with friends along the beach path on moonlit winter nights. (I hated wearing a headlight and couldn’t wait for daylight’s saving.) Cheering these loyal friends on, as they pounded with thousands of others through the streets of LA in March’s marathon, right before that cup broke. Now, I treasure the daily texts my running friends send, posting photos of their solo routes on empty streets, reports on distances and times; and I cheer them on in a strange new thing called “virtual races.” I am learning to run alone again, breathing in city air that is miraculously clean.
…Yoga classes in sweat-filled studios. Holding a plank for an interminable length of time as our teacher prepared us to deal with anything life might throw at us, with a smile. Now, I treasure meeting up with friends from around the world in my daily kundalini yoga class, listening to my sister-in-law as she leads us in movement and meditation with a chorus of tropical birds around her. I hold in my heart sweet memories of being with her in her Costa Rican paradise, along with those birds…and biting ants and mosquitos. Now we sweat and smile and chat together in this physically distanced but spiritually connected and still-fully-embodied way.
…Places, all around the world, where my feet have touched the earth. The shop where I purchased this mug, on a crowded, narrow, winding street in Old Town Barcelona. Shuttered now, perhaps. Not crowded. The trains and planes and buses that took me there, filled with people going somewhere, oblivious to the privilege of this movement across borders, ignoring the passengers beside them or greeting them with a nod, a smile, or friendly banter, not with fear of the invisible enemy that could spew from their mouths or the pores of their skin and silently spread. All the crowds I have pushed through and the queues I have stood in with aching feet and grumbling mind. I cherish the broken cups of these memories, and embrace the six-foot-spacing-to-buy-toilet-paper-queue that is in the cup I hold right now.
…Greeting friends and family with a handshake, a hug, a kiss on one cheek, or two, or three, or the surprising sweet salt of lips meeting unexpectedly. Selfies and video clips and group shots we took to record precious moments together. Carefree people with linked arms and uncovered smiles for the camera: “Squeeze in! We don’t all fit!”
My hands come together in a prayer, as I bow to these memories, and to all the people I now greet from six feet’s distance: Namaste.
What cups are you holding, right now?