“You see this goblet?” Chaa asked, holding up a glass. “For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; drink out of it. It holds 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 a shelf and the wind knocks it over and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.” – Excerpt from Sacred Hoops, by Phil Jackson, 1995
Outside of the Bible, I cannot think of an idea that has had a greater influence on my thinking. In fact, this passage is religious too. Achaan Chaa was a famous Buddhist monk from Laos.
Phil Jackson, author of the passage, was the celebrated coach of the Chicago Bulls during the heyday of their Michael Jordan years. Even in the midst of winning six championships, Jackson explains in his book, he knew it would all eventually come to an end.
After all, impermanence is a fact of life. Things will always continue to change. If we can accept that idea ahead of time, Jackson argues, we won’t be as disappointed when it happens. The realization also helps us appreciate and savor a good thing while we have it. As Chaa says, consider the goblet already broken before it actually is.
I had one of those glass-already-shattered moments a couple of days ago. Literally. One of my favorite accessories in my home—outside of family heirlooms—is an apothecary jar that I bought with a gift card I received as a housewarming gift. The jar was delicate, hand blown, lovely to see and to touch. It sat on the vanity in my master bathroom, where I admired it every time I walked in and turned on the light.
And yet… I knew the jar was fragile. Yet I recklessly tossed some clothing I was sorting right next to it. When I went to scoop up the pile of clothes, I knocked the jar to the floor.
Halfway through sweeping up the shards of glass, I stopped and took this picture. Perhaps I did it to scold myself for my carelessness. Or, more likely, I had Jackson’s glass-already-shattered quote in the back of my mind.
I got off lucky, of course. I had known the glass jar could break one day, so I had been enjoying it all along.
Even more, I was fortunate to lose an object that is replaceable. Any time I want, I can drive to the nearest Pottery Barn store, plunk down $45 plus tax, and take home an identical jar. While it won’t be the exact one that was a house-warming gift, it will be an acceptable substitute.
But I can’t shake a scary thought. How many of my glasses-already-shattered are irreplaceable? I’m afraid nearly all of them are. The people, the experiences, the emotions, life itself. All could be lost as quickly and easily as a glass jar that falls to the floor.
So, yes, I will try to be more careful in the future. Yes, I will try even harder to avoid taking my treasures for granted. And yes, I will remain grateful to a Laotian monk and an NBA coach for this life lesson that I share with you today.
Friends, let’s be ever-so-gentle with each other.