Friday, January 11, 2008

The Goblet is Already Broken

A friend lent me the book "Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior," by Phil Jackson (famous coach of the Chicago Bulls) and the book was a good read, especially now that I'm helping to coach a women's rugby team in the area. Even though I don't particularly care for basketball, I found Phil's philosophy and approach interesting because it drew inspiration from Native American traditions and Buddhist ideals and integrated them into the dynamics of a professional sports team.

In discussing the Bulls as they entered their decline after many years of dominance (and after Michael Jordan left), he offered an interesting perspective on the common idea that everything changes. To illustrate this thinking, he references a story from the book "Thoughts Without a Thinker," by psychiatrist Mark Esptein, which describes an encounter between American travelers and a famous a Laotian monk, Achaan Chaa.

"You see this goblet?" Chaa asked, holding up a glass. "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 a 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 this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.
Phil Jackson goes on to say that despite the heyday of the Bulls, he knew eventually it would come to an end. Impermanence is a fact of life and things will always continue to change; if we can accept the idea ahead of time, we won't be as disappointed when it happens. It also helps us appreciate and savor a good thing when we have it.

We all know things change - our best friend moves to another city, a family member passes away, a championship team dissolves, changing jobs, graduation, etc. Sometimes it might feel sad reflecting on what we're leaving behind or missing, but maybe if we can recognize that "the goblet is already broken," we can be even more thankful here and now for the fact that it's not broken yet.

This philosophy also helps us to have more realistic expectations about the natural evolution of people and places over time - Did we really expect the championship team would stay together forever? Or the band we created in high school to continue through college? Or our circle of friends would always live near each other? Thankfully, we're able to create memories to carry with us in life as happy reminders of the good experiences we've had.

Since reading that story about the goblet, I've been trying to use it in my life. In a few cases, it's made me feel a bit sad thinking that something good might end, but it also helped me be that much more conscientious about how much I appreciate it.
  • What do you think of "the goblet is already broken"? Is it helpful or too fatalistic?


Anonymous said...

I think it's a bit sad to think that all the best stuff will eventually go away. I think it dampens the fun that you're having in the moment, thinking about how it will be over soon and "the goblet will eventually be broken."

In middle school, we read "The Outsiders," by S.E. Hinton and I've always remembered Ponyboy's comment that "Nothing gold can stay" (which I later found out is a reference to Robert Frost's poem by the same title). I think this is similar to what you're saying about the goblet, and definitely feel it's too fatalistic because it doesn't let people enjoy what's going on here and now.

Anonymous said...

My dog passed away in December. He was already 17, so it wasn't unexpected that he would pass away, but the lymphoma came for him quickly and even with chemo he only lasted another 2 months. Those were 2 of the best and worst months of my life. I am so sad he is gone, but that is only because we had the best years together and I wouldn't trade them for anything. All life is a goblet on a shelf.

kyan younes said...

I actually believe that understanding the duality nature of this problem, is a closest example to what the story of the goblet was actually trying to tell us