“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.”
- Mark Epstein
Thoughts Without a Thinker
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How many times have you gotten upset because someone wasn’t doing their job, because your child isn’t behaving, because your partner or friend isn’t living up to his or her end of the bargain?
How many times have you been irritated when someone doesn’t do things the way you’re used to? Or when you’ve planned something carefully and things didn’t go as you’d hoped?
This kind of anger and irritation happens to all of us — it’s part of the human experience.
One thing that irritates me is when people talk during a movie. Or cut me off in traffic. Or don’t wash their dishes after eating. Actually, I have a lot of these little annoyances — don’t we all?
And it isn’t always easy to find peace when you’ve become upset or irritated.
See, the cause of our stress, anger and irritation is that things don’t go the way we like, the way we expect them to. Think of how many times this has been true for you.
And so the solution is simple: expect things to go wrong, expect things to be different than we hoped or planned, expect the unexpected to happen. And accept it.
One quick example: on our recent trip to Japan, I told my kids to expect things to go wrong — they always do on a trip. I told them, “See it as part of the adventure.”
And this worked like a charm. When we inevitably took the wrong train on a foreign-language subway system, or when it rained on the day we went to Disney Sea, or when we took three trains and walked 10 blocks only to find the National Children’s Castle closed on Mondays … they said, “It’s part of the adventure!” And it was all OK — we didn’t get too bothered.
So when the nice glass you bought inevitably falls and breaks, someday, you might get upset. But not if you see the glass as already broken, from the day you get it. You know it’ll break someday, so from the beginning, see it as already broken. Be a time-traveler, or someone with time-traveling vision, and see the future of this glass, from this moment until it inevitably breaks.
And when it breaks, you won’t be upset or sad — because it was already broken, from the day you got it. And you’ll realize that every moment you have with it is precious.
Expect your child to mess up — all children do. And don’t get so upset when they mess up, when they don’t do what they’re “supposed” to do … because they’re supposed to mess up.
Expect your partner to be less than perfect.
Expect your friend to not show up sometimes.
Expect things to go not according to plan.
Expect people to be rude sometimes.
Expect coworkers not to come through sometimes.
Expect roommates not to wash their dishes or pick up their clothes, sometimes.
Expect the glass to break.
And accept it.
You won’t change these inevitable facts — they will happen, eventually. And if you expect it to happen — even see it as already happening, before it happens — you won’t get so upset.
You won’t overreact. You’ll respond appropriately, but not overreact. You can talk to the person about their behavior, and ask them kindly to consider your feelings when they do this … but you won’t get overly emotional and blow things out of proportion.
You’ll smile, and think, “I expected that to happen. The glass was already broken. And I accept that.”
You’ll have peace of mind. And that, my friends, is a welcome surprise.
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