The Cracked Water Jug
A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on an end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot always arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house. After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, the cracked pot spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.
"I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you." "Why?" asked the bearer. "What are you ashamed of?"
For these past two years, I have only been able to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this work, and you don't get full value from your efforts." the pot said.
The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the masters house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path."
Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it some. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again the Pot apologized to the bearer for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house."
Monday morning at breakfast I told this story to my children. When I got to the end of the story I asked them what they thought it meant. My 7 year old looks at me like I’m the town idiot and says “Mom, pots can’t talk.” Ok, every creature with a bizarre name and even more bizarre appearance on Pokemon can talk, but not a pot. Good to know where we draw the line with the suspension of disbelief.
He did get the story of course – that all of us are cracked pots (as one student said to me on Monday, “I’m going to take it as a compliment the next time someone calls me a crackpot!”). Some of us physically, some emotionally, some spiritually - hopefully not all at once but usually one way or another from time to time. We all have perceived imperfections that can drain us and seem to take away from who we are. And yet, for many of us, these cracks are where we can open up and bestow grace on those around us in ways we aren't even aware of. The great Leonard Cohen said it best in his song Anthem:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
Regular yoga practice can help heal the cracks. Not by making them disappear necessarily (after that story, do you really want them to?), although often we find great healing from asana and breath work. The healing comes more from practicing acceptance. When you practice acceptance you soften around your broken places, and realize that even though you're not "perfect" that those things you wish to be different can (and probably already do) offer blessings to those around you.
The pursuit of perfection seems to me to be the national pastime. My son during his first week of school last week, exhibiting frustration about the many responsibilities required of him, said "Mom, you don't know how hard it is to be perfect at school, perfect at Hebrew School, perfect at soccer AND perfect at home!" Ouch. Well, sadly, I do know that pressure in fact, but I recognize now that it is self-inflicted (all he sees of course is that pursuit, not that it comes from the internal pressure we put on ourselves). To quote another great poet, Danna Faulds:
Perfection isn't a prerequisite for anything but pain. Please,
oh please, don’t continue to believe in your disbelief. This
is the day of your awakening.
Meaning that the pursuit of "perfection" only makes us miserable, since really, the best we ever have are moments of perfection. And those moments come more and more often when we accept ourselves as we are, cracks, fissures, leaks, broken places and all. The awakening comes when we forget our perfect offering and know that whatever we have to offer authentically from our hearts is offering enough. It comes when we recognize that there is a crack in everything and we embrace those cracks fully. And when we both let in the light, and let the light shine forth from those openings as brilliantly as it can, whether we are aware of it or not.
Off the mat:
In the words of one last great poet, John Legend "(All of me) loves all of you - all your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections." What are your edges? What are your perfect imperfections? A good window into what these things are is to try to see yourself as a good friend or sibling or spouse sees you (like he does in this song). What are the little things about you your family jokes about that you have tried to change but find difficult? That may even seem to be complaints on the surface, but are really the things they would miss about you if they were gone.
On the Mat:
In my classes this week I am focusing on hip openers and joking that in yoga practice not only do we embrace our cracks but we sometimes work to crack ourselves open even more. But it's not really a joke. With a healthy respect for the amount of cracking that allows opening and growth, not the kind that leads us to be broken permanently, we recognize that opening ourselves up to a deeper experience let's in more light. The more cracks in the façade, the more light flows in and out.
For the Anusara Junkies:
Open to Grace:
Take a breath and soften around your cracks.
Stand evenly on the 4 corners of your feet and spread your toes out into acceptance.
Breathe in and fill up with acceptance for your imperfections.
(In poses weight bearing on the hands) Claw your fingers into the mat and anchor your heart and your pose in acceptance of all your weaknesses
Firm your muscles to your bones embracing your broken places.
Pull all your muscles and all your perceived shortcomings into the midline and feel your body strengthen from the hug.
Inner Spiral: (Ok, this one’s a little risqué…not sure how else to say it :-)
Widen inner thighs back and apart to broaden the low back, opening up the cracks even wider.
Root your tailbone into acceptance of your perfect imperfections.
From all your broken places let light pour out like the water poured out to nurture the flowers.
Forget your perfect offering and let the offering of this pose shine, cracks and all.
Foot awareness: (in preparation for Eka Pada Galavasana and other arm balances)
Spread your toes and make even more cracks to let even more light in.
Hook the pinky toe side of the foot back (into the floor, around your arm, etc.) to harness your cracks, knowing they are a part of who you are and what you have to offer.