Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Cup Gazing

The latest and greatest installment in what continues to unfold for me with this bit from Rumi:

Take sips of this pure wine being poured.
Don't mind that you've been given a dirty cup.

Last week I realized that I had a Tuesday evening completely free. Since I would be busy with Ignite Portland on Thursday I decided to go to the zazen and discussion held on Tuesdays. The leader for last Tuesday had suggested that people bring quotes or short readings that inspired their practice. I brought the Rumi.

When I shared it I commented that what has started to really get through to me are the two words, "Don't mind". These are the important bit, as my teacher had commented to me. When I don't mind the cup is stained, that's when the stains clean themselves. Just recently it has finally felt like I'm in a place where I am starting to get the whole not minding thing.

Fresh off my sharing at the Dharma center this little gem of Rumi's came up during a conversation with PB. How I've been working with it, seeing the cup as my life and the traumatic moments as the dirt on the cup. She offered that perhaps I should consider buying a new cup.

I immediately, passionately said that wasn't the point. I can look at all the ways I tried to keep re-inventing myself during my teens, 20s and into my 30s as merely trying to "buy a new cup". It doesn't work, you cannot buy or acquire your way out of this one. You have to work with the cup you're given.

I said that it also felt that wanting to discard the cup because it was dirty wasn't compassionate. In honoring the cup, using it, it equally honors the person I was. In particular it acknowledges and holds the child I was in loving-kindness. To want to get rid of the cup is to want to get rid of that child and she doesn't deserve that. Besides, that isn't the point.

One of the younger priests in my Zen community once suggested upon hearing this Rumi that "There is no cup."

While that's very Zen and strolls right along that uncertain path called "No Self", it misses the point. The cup, the dirty cup is an intrinsic part. We must have a cup in order to partake in the pure wine that is life.

The point is not minding the dirt.

Not minding that I was hurt doesn't mean I condone it, rather it means I don't see myself as intrinsically flawed because of the "stain" of those events. Yes, those events affected me greatly, still affect me, but they are not an indicator that something is wrong with me. None of it was my fault.

Which brings me to a mug I purchased at SFMOMA in May. The colors and the simple ginkgo leaf pattern make me smile, it was also on clearance in the gift shop (bonus!), and I drink tea from it pretty regularly.

Tea can be a pretty strong dye and in short order my new favorite mug for tea had acquired stains that the dishwasher doesn't affect.

Do I mind? No. Does it affect the tea? Not in the least. Is the cup still completely pleasing to me, stains and all? Yeah, absolutely. It isn't exactly self-cleaning, but I don't mind. Silly as it may seem, given that the stains appear on the mug not out of some act of violence or deception, but still this mug is a good reminder.

This cup holds my tea and if it is a green tea I can even appreciate the stains on it when I'm drinking from it. They indicate nothing more than the ability of strong liquids to leave a mark. It is the outcome of this mug having a life. A perfectly good mug and I like it stains and all.

My life shows the effects of everything that has happened to me. Some of those things leave me feeling pretty sad and hurt. Taken as a whole, I have learned a lot about not minding my life. I even have begun to relax occasionally into even enjoying it, not minding the stains at all.

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