Last year I moved into a new apartment. I was delighted with it: it was exactly the right price, location, size, with beautiful features like a fireplace and parquet floors, a real find. For a while I left it rather empty. I don’t like to buy things too quickly, I wanted to pick the right furniture. While my style is eclectic, it was good to be taking time to find the right pieces to fit in with the rest.
So in order to make it feel more homely in its empty state, I bought a couple of nice plants from a lovely flower shop in Geneva’s old town. I explained to the florist that I travel a lot and need perennial types that will be able survive when I am gone for weeks at a time. She gave me great advice and my lovely large art deco studio overlooking the Parc de la Grange immediately became that much greener and more welcoming.
One of the plants I chose was rather unusual, one I had never come across before, a water plant (sadly I couldn’t tell you what it was called). Anchored in a bedrock of smooth large black pebbles, its roots covered, water coming up to a heart of beautiful generous tender leaves. I found it a great spot. It sat in its large glass container by my window sill.
Sadly the heatwave in June hit my little apartment hard. The other three plants looked fine if a little thirsty when I returned early July, but this water baby was all dried up. Despite a couple of my cleansing efforts and generous watering, I returned the other day to find that the poor thing had sadly died. The water hadn’t evaporated, it was a deep dark green, the plant’s chlorophyll seemingly had released itself into the liquid.
The next day, I figured I might as well clean up the vase and put it back on the sideboard, so that at some point in the fall I would maybe try to find another one of these beauties to replace its departed sister. I carefully rinsed and brushed each of the pebbles and placed them back in the glass vase. After a while, I got a bit bored with cleaning rocks (!) so I dropped a couple of them not so gently on top of each other, impatience taking over me.
I heard the them knock around and making contact with the inside surface of the vase. The nervous energy, remaining in me from the past few days, was making itself felt on a physical level, in front of me. As I picked up the vase and placed it back in its place, I saw the crack.
Now would be a good moment tell you that I have been studying meditation and mindfulness with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield since the beginning of the year. And if all goes well, I will be graduating in over a year or so and will become a teacher. Over this first semester, I have learned much about the value about being mindful, in the moment. About patience. Compassion. About being with myself and my felt sense of experience, fully, whether breathing, eating, on my yoga mat; or cleaning pebbles.
In our recommended readings, Thich Naht Hanh in particular had helped me to understand this notion with real clarity. He lovingly explains in his book Miracle of Mindfulness this notion of full presence, in all of life, in the smallest tasks. Like when one is walking, or making tea or washing the dishes.
Being so engrossed with the stories crowding my head the other day, I wasn’t present, I wasn’t mindful. I was at the mercy of a whirlwind of emotions and could not wait to do whatever next thing was lined up that afternoon. I mildly scolded myself. I should know better.
Yes I do know better and I also know that now it’s equally important to let this go. With gentleness, I am releasing, so that bit by bit, I can find space and I can be a little less caught up in my own head. And hopefully, next time I go through a crisis, I can open up that much more to the moment and be with what is.
And maybe, just maybe, I will break a few things less than I did this time around.
So then I looked at it the chipped vase and sat with it.
Rather naturally, I started pondering on how we share of ourselves with others. The pressure and the value in being delicate when addressing yourself to another’s heart. While giving out what one might intend to be gifts of love, we easily forget that these beautiful nuggets are weighty, meaningful, laden with emotions that have the potential to create shock in another, if not released carefully. In my own life, I see how I have often times failed to be delicate even when I spoke with the most positive intention from my heart. With the impatience, the bursting of joy came a certain forcefulness, regardless of how loving or wise the content of my speech was. So it might hit the other a little hard. And out of that shock, I might have created a break.
And it made me think of Leonard Cohen’s famous lyric: «There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.»
A couple of days before this incident, I was using the shuffle function in my phone’s extensive music library, hoping for a good surprise choice that would relate to where I was at. And night, on my little terrace in Rome, a beautiful song by Emily King, “Out of the Clouds”, started playing. The lyrics intrigued me, so I looked them up online to see if I was getting the meaning right.
Indeed, Emily was singing about a situation that felt close to my own: a severed relationship, two people wanting to get be together but are apart, a man scared for his heart. And an opening that might not be there for very long.
So the crack in the glass starting to look like a symbol of opening in myself as much as in the other.
The sign of an opening, a way in for the light.