Already Broken

Posted on Aug 26, 2013

This summer (well, let’s just say this lifetime) I’ve been learning a few lessons in impermanence.  I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not alone in that.

I lost both of my parents by the time I was in my early 30s and subsequently my family kind of exploded, and then my marriage.  Between one thing and another it felt a little like getting caught up in a rough cold ocean, and being thrown onto the shore over and over again.  Sandy, salty, shivering.

To keep the storm at bay I tried to make my life smaller, safer.  My young daughter and I kind of holed up.  I tried not to need too many people or too many things.  I had very few possessions from my parents, most of it lost to family squabbles, but the one thing that I had been given was my mother’s jewelry.

I needed money so some of it had to be sold, but the rest I guarded like 2Spot does her catnip mouse.  Those little pieces of gold served as a kind of talisman and offered some kind of continuity too.  If my daughter would never know her grandmother, at least she’d have her fabulous 1980s earrings.

Last month I noticed that a number of pieces were missing.  Just like that.  Gone.  Had I squirreled them away somewhere and forgotten?  Had I taken them on a trip and left them?  Could they possibly have been stolen?  I have absolutely no idea.  Not a clue.  I spent a few weeks feeling kind of frantic, a little insane, alternating between self-judgment and anger at an imagined thief.

Then I remembered a wonderful story that I heard from my teacher Jack Kornfield.  He had heard it from his teacher in Thailand, Ajahn Chah.  Chah showed his students a beautiful antique glass from which he drank his tea every day.  When asked was he not concerned for its safety, he replied that the glass was already broken.    He said that though he loved the glass and it held the water beautifully, though it reflected light like nothing he had ever seen, and had a beautiful tone when tapped, for him it was already broken.  When it is knocked over or shattered, as it inevitably must be one day, he would say “of course.”  The glass is precious in its impermanence and it becomes a spiritual practice, a letting go, to use and enjoy it every day.

This is a lesson clearly not just about the sentimental or valuable material objects that we wish we could hang on to, but about every material thing, which includes me and you.  In yoga this is sometimes discussed as the nature of prakriti—meaning anything which is created, exists for some time, and is inevitably destroyed or passes away.

The Buddhist psychiatrist Mark Epstein, who was also one of Ajahn Chah’s students puts it this way:

As with the glass, we try to make ourselves more real than we really are and we struggle and squirm and fight to maintain that illusion. We fear that if we surrender to the self’s fragility, we will break, not realizing the inherent freedom in being already broken. 

Yet somehow we forget again and again, with the things we love and especially with the people we love.  We have the illusion that we can hold it all together and others should as well.

So time to stop hoarding my catnip mouse.  I am going to wear the few pieces of my mother’s jewelry that are left and pass them on to my daughter sooner than I had planned.    I have an unfortunate tendency to lose things and so does she.  It’s not great.  But it’s ok.  It’s the nature of things.  Every in-breath has an out-breath.  Each one precious.  Beauty-filled.  Enjoy.

Wishing you a peaceful practice,




  1. Susan, your beautiful words touched my heart.

    • Father Time! Thank you! Always good to hear from a wise student and teacher.

  2. What a beautiful message, and so elegantly painted. Grateful to have you in my life, SuSpot!

    • Thank you Erin!!! Much love to you!

      • so beautifully written Susan! and really timely for me…right here and now! as i move my mom from one place to another and part with and clear out- her stuff, my father’s and my own.

        • Thanks Judy!! Yeah kinda timely all the time for me these days. Lots of transitions. Wishing all the best with yours, see you soon, love, S

  3. Susan,

    I loved this post. I have tried to comment but somehow the wordpress log in doesn’t work for me?

    How are you?

    I really appreciated your feedback about my new newsletter. Miss you. Are you fasting? Did you reschedule your retreat? Let’s get together.

    love, Jennifer

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