Being a parent can be tough. Often we feel that we should be able to solve all our children’s problems. Sometimes we can’t, and that can leave us feeling hurt and helpless.
The story of the cracked pot
There’s an old Chinese story about a poor peasant farmer who had two clay water pots. This woman carried her pots down the hillside to the river every morning. She tied them with twine to either end of a bamboo pole which she carried over her shoulders. She would fill both pots to the brim, and then make her way back up the hill to her little farm, carrying her water for the day.
But one of the pots was cracked. The cracked pot used to leak water all the way up the pathway to the farm, so that it was more than half empty by the time the woman reached home.
One day a wealthy man visited the little village by the river. He sat and watched as the woman filled her two pots from the river, hoisted the heavy load onto her shoulders, and set off up the hill. “Wait!”, he called out to the woman, “Let me help you. I can’t bear to see you working so hard to carry this old, leaky pot. Let me give you money to buy a new pot, to make your life a little easier.”
My most treasured possession
The woman turned to look at the rich man. She gave him a long, slow smile, shaking her head with great determination. “Ah no, sir”, she said. “You are most kind, but I cannot possibly accept your offer. You see, this cracked old pot is my most treasured possession.”
The wealthy traveller thought the woman must be mad, but she continued to speak. “Look, sir! Look along my stony pathway. Look at the beautiful flowers that grow all along one side of the path. My leaky pot releases a little trickle of water as I walk, just enough to water the earth. Wherever I pass, a carpet of scented flowers springs up and thrives. I would not give up my cracked pot, not for all the gold in the great city.”
A damaged baby
I first heard that story just a few weeks after my youngest daughter was born and diagnosed with Down Syndrome. I was devastated by the knowledge that I had given birth to a damaged baby. I can’t say that the story instantly changed the way I felt, but it quietly took root somewhere in a dark place inside me.
Let’s be clear – simply being told that good things can come from bad probably isn’t helpful in itself. It can be pretty annoying! But over time, as we haul around our own broken pots, we start to notice a few flowers popping up here and there.
Trying to fix her
For the first few years of Martha’s life, I did everything imaginable to “fix” her. I spoon fed her herbal remedies that were supposed to limit brain damage. I signed up for every conceivable exercise and therapy programme. Hours every day were spent on cognitive games and educational activities. Many of these things were probably good, but my motivation was more questionable. I was trying to swap my cracked pot for a whole one. I would have bitten off the weathy stranger’s hand!
But gradually things changed. I started to notice the flowers springing up along my path. Flowers of kindness, tolerance and love. Flowers of acceptance. By the time Martha was three or four years old, I would not have changed her for all the world. She was just fine exactly the way she was.
All my pots are cracked
And I started to see something else too. I began to realise that all my pots were cracked. And that included myself. Perfection is just an illusion. Every one of us is damaged. Maybe not by something so obvious as a major genetic defect, but perhaps by our life experiences or simply our own imperfect choices and attitudes. Learning to live with brokenness is simply the human condition.
The kind yoga mat
Where does yoga come into all this? Well for me, yoga practice has become a most powerful helper on the long journey to self-acceptance. On my yoga mat, I am constantly reminded of my many limitations, injuries and weaknesses. But the mat is a kind and gentle place. A space where I am held and accepted without criticism exactly as I am today. Much in the same way that a parent loves and accepts her child, however damaged.
That’s how the light gets in
I’m going to close this post with one of my favourite quotes from Leonard Cohen:
“Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in”.
There is no such thing as perfection in this life. Let the light in. Don’t try to be a perfect parent, or a perfect person – you will fail. Just love all your cracked pots!
Karen is a mother of seven and a trainee yoga teacher and health visitor. She lives in Billericay, Essex. She will shortly be teaching classes in gentle yoga, meditation, pregnancy yoga and postnatal yoga in the Billericay area. For more information visit http://thecalmspace.co.uk