One of the most daunting challenges of embracing a spiritual path is the willingness to accept reality as it is. Whether it is referred to as surrender, letting go, non-judgment, non-attachment or just plain acceptance, the willingness to take in the experience of life as it is (i.e. “thy will be done”) is one of the highest expressions of self-mastery and the foundation of all spiritual practice. Only through such acceptance can we quiet the mind and move beyond the polarity of our judgments of right and wrong to make contact with the fundamental goodness that is the deeper nature of all of creation.
Yet, every day of our lives, we find ourselves fighting -- in both subtle and not so subtle ways -- against life’s circumstances in a never-ending battle to cajole, negotiate, force, manipulate, coax and mold the circumstances of our lives into what we want them to be. From the fleeting annoyance of spilt milk, to the frustration of traffic that impedes our movement, to the injurious reluctance to forgive, whether it is the anger-fueled jab directed at the world around us or the more brooding seething that we inflict on ourselves, our daily lives are filled with both large and small examples of the ego’s judgments of what is right and wrong and its demands that it be “my will, NOT yours!”
While such ego-created conflict ultimately does not serve us, it is easy to see why it happens. It is a paradox of our existence as individuals that although our consciousness forms the center of our life, life does not in fact revolve around us. As we look out on the world, our individual perspective is just one reflection in an infinite number of reflections through which the universe comes to know itself. As such, we can never truly understand the ultimate meaning of what happens in our lives or grasp the interconnectedness of all of its elements. We forget that we are only ever catching glimpses, but never “the big picture”.
But every now and then, something happens to remind us of “the big picture” and of how we don’t see everything there is to see. I recently received just such a reminder from a friend in the form of the following parable. In its simple wisdom, it made a deep impact on me and remains a reminder to me to be gentle with myself and with those with whom I come into contact.
The Parable of the Cracked Pot
An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck.
One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.
At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water.
Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.
But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream.
'I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.'
The old woman smiled, 'Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?'
'That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.'
For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table.
Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.'
Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it's the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding.
You've just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.
So, to all you "cracked pots" out there, be gentle with yourselves and as my friend said to me, I now say to you too -- remember to smell the flowers on your side of the path!