The Perpetually Shattering Vase
A spiritual student brought a crystal vase to his weekly session with his teacher and said, “Master, I have great difficulty enjoying the beauty of this bowl since it could shatter at any moment.”
The master replied, “That is exactly why you should totally enjoy it in this moment.”
Nothing is permanent. Everything will eventually dissolve. The body will decay. Relationships will end. And if they last eventually one of the members of the couple will die. You will either leave or be left. Bank accounts will dwindle. Government promises of safe drinking water will turn to lead. Children move out of the nest, no longer need constant care and the popular parental helicopter runs out of fuel. No matter how steadfastly we resist, complain, cry, become bitter and aggrieved it will happen.
In my life, I have the sense that as soon as my reality, or more accurately my picture of reality, fits nicely together and seems to coalesce into a coherent whole something changes. It all goes out of kilter. Then my life feels like a piece of Salvador Dali instillation art actually melting and dissolving. Life is like an ice sculpture. If it is February it might last a while but inevitably the warmth of April and May arrive.
What I love about this story is that it calls us out of despair to embrace life in its impermanence. There are no lectures, no lengthy discourses on the nature of Being, there is just an invitation into immediate life. There is no room for despair. The response to the melting nature of all things is to plunge into life and love all of it not in spite of its impermanence but precisely because it is so very temporary.
One of my lessons in this came in the early 2000s. I realized that the only object I owned that I cared about was my top of the line SLR 35mm camera with its equally top of the line macro lens for taking close ups. That camera was my very own crystal vase. I had bought one of the very finest cameras an amateur could want. I became as skilled with that camera as with anything in my life and like lightening it all dissolved. The sand beneath my tripod shifted dramatically. Photography was rearranged into a digital process over a two or three year period. Film was no longer available and developing became much more expensive. I held on as long as I could to “real” photography, as it was “meant” to be refusing to even consider a shift. In a fit of pique I refused to even consider buying one of those imitation pretender digital cameras. I was not going to “sell out.” My ego was interwoven with my camera. I was having an artistic temper tantrum. To say the least none of this helped very much except I got to enjoy being stubborn.
It took ONLY five or six years for my temper tantrum to run its course and for me to hesitantly begin to transition to digital which now seems perfectly natural and in some ways preferable. And my artistic soul knows this mode of photography is also temporary, a way station, a cloud passing through my sky to which I am not tethered.
It is all temporary. This can’t be fought. It is the fabric of the cosmos.
What we can do is watch our resistance to loss, change and challenge. Breathe and enjoy the dance and even learn to laugh at our obstinacy. And not let these things prevent us from diving into life as it presents itself to us in every moment. We can dive in with or without whatever serves as our own personal crystal vase facing the inevitable letting go.