“If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.” – Nhat Hanh’s
Beautifully worded language from a Zen Buddhist teacher. I am the cup of salted water.
I am learning my faults again in marriage since the proximity of another person gives you a bit of (occasionally unfortunate) insight into who you actually are rather than the curated self that can exist within the confines of a small space of time. The self that I present to the world is more often an idea than a reality. The self that wears a heavy metal T-shirt is a curated self trying to hide a more gentle creature beneath mutant goat heads and whatnot. I think that I grew up wanting to be tough in a Wyoming sort of way. Instead I turned out to care more than can be pretended away and often this registers in my mind as a kind of regrettable weakness on my part. Or the way that Adam Phillips puts it here:
“Perhaps we are permanently enraged, taking revenge on ourselves for not being sufficient for ourselves, and taking revenge on others for never giving us quite what we want.”
While caring, by in large is a really good thing, it can also become a control thing. To tolerate short-comings and to try to crop them off with “helpful” insights are different life approaches. I want to save my wife from pain, but pain is how we grow. It’s how we learn or avoid learning and it’s far more complicated than my own half-assed and short-sighted understanding.
I need the river. I need the well that overflows. I need the excess that is not within my means. I need a larger heart which must be the borrowed larger heart of God. Grace is the capacity to see others beyond their short-comings. In order to accept and understand others I need to accept my short-comings as they are, as they present in my marriage so that I can allow space for the awkward fumbling efforts at love that come from another. I need a deeper well and a wider river to draw from because quite frankly I am a small and vengeful creature when I am in the business of fixing the unfixable. The change that I demand in others is the change that I battle in myself. The salt in the water.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:13-14