Years ago, Karina was consoling her dear friend who had lost her father. Her friend is the youngest of 10 siblings, and if all goes according to plan, over the course of her life, she will experience the loss of her entire family. She was struggling with that thought, having suffered the pain of losing her father; the daunting understanding of how many losses were in her future weighed on her. Karina shared this story with her.
There was a monk who had a morning ritual to sit down with his very favorite cup, pour tea, and meditate each morning. He was very intentional about this process, appreciating each aspect of this rather simple routine. He loved his cup, his tea, his routine. Each time he poured his tea, he said aloud, “The cup is already broken.” Witnesses of this routine found it odd. The cup wasn’t broken, he drank from it daily. He loved that cup; he made it clear that it was his favorite. But he did this for years, each day saying the same thing, “The cup is already broken.” Then, one day, as he finished his tea, the cup slipped from his hand and shattered on the floor. He looked down and smiled, saying aloud, “See, I told you so. It’s already broken.”
“The cup is already broken” has become a mantra in my life now, encapsulating the truth of impermanence and the value of presence. It is an inevitable reality that everyone and everything we love will someday die, including ourselves. We have no way of knowing when or how, but it is the only thing we can truly know. Everything else is an uncertainty, but death is not.
Yet, we grow up thinking we are invincible. We know, intellectually, that people can die. But we don’t really believe it will happen to us. We are the exceptions to the fragility of life. That’s what I thought, at least, until the sudden loss of my mother crushed that illusion. All of a sudden, I was that guy, the one that lost his mom. Eight years later, I was that guy who lost his fiancee. It did happen to me, twice.
My life experience slapped me with reality. And I know I will have to go through it again and again. My dog will die. My dad will die. My friends and family will die. I will die. We can only hope that everyone leaves gracefully in old age, but that hasn’t been the case thus far in my life, so I fully know how fleeting this life can be.
In looking through some of the writings Karina did in the later days of her cancer journey, “The cup is already broken” shows up occasionally. It was a mantra to her as well, as she lay in her dying body, slipping towards the other side. She found appreciation for each day she had left. She said daily of the countless messages, cards, and mountains of love she received, “I am so blessed.” In those months, she cried more in joy than she did in fear and sadness.
Recognizing the cup that seems to be fully intact in the moment, but will someday break, allows us to be so present with what we have right now. If you have ever lost someone dear to you, you know the haunting pain of longing for one more hug, one more smile, one more kiss. To hear their voice, receive their call, feel their energy. How good would that feel? Twice now, I would have climbed Everest just for one more moment with them. The recognition that you will never get it again is sickening, sometimes debilitating.
Now, present with someone you love, imagine the cup is already broken. Recognize that time in your future that this person is no longer going to be there to touch, kiss, hold. It will happen. Feel that moment. Then, slip back into the present and touch, kiss, and hold that person. It is the most present I ever feel when I sit there with a loved one, feel their departure, and come back to this moment with them still here.
Sometimes, while I’m snuggling on the couch with my dog and partner, I say to myself, “The cup is already broken,” recognizing that the joy of this moment lives only in this moment. It could be gone tomorrow; it isn’t that improbable. Being here with them, as if it was the last time, is intoxicating. It is a true presence like I have never experienced before, and it takes meaning out of those little things in life that nag us but ultimately are meaningless.
If you haven’t experienced a major loss, there are other things in your life that perhaps can bring up the same sort of longing. The loss of your youth, your looks, your able body, your childhood home, your dog, anything that was dear to you that has gone with time. If you are still alive, you’ve experienced change and have something to appreciate in the present moment.
The cup is already broken.
Some years ago, there was an article published about some billionaires working on a project to sustain life indefinitely. Why not live forever, I thought? Think of all the things we could do. I shared this with Karina, who vehemently disagreed, “That’s not the point of life. Life would lose all beauty if it never ended. We need impermanence for there to be any meaning in this life, to be present, to understand love.”
She won that debate, as I recognized at that stage so much of the beauty I enjoyed in life was a result of losing my mother. The same has been true from losing Karina. I would not have become the person I am today without those experiences.
In reality, I was born and will die. I will love and lose. I will experience joy and pain. This is life. We have been taught that we have some control, but the only control we have is in how present we can be with what is. “The cup is already broken” reminds me to be here, now, with what is, and bask in the beauty of the moment. Whether pleasant or unpleasant, each moment is a blessing. We can’t have the good without the bad, the light without the dark.
I disagree with the “good vibes only” saying that goes around. We need darkness. We need pain. We need to feel all the unpleasantries of this life because it is the key to unlocking its beauty. It is a blessing to feel. It is an honor to hurt. It is a gift to cry.
The cup is already broken.
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