During a kitchen cleaning assignment one day, I noticed that the salt and pepper shakers were low and in need of a wipe down. I lovingly topped them off and cleaned them up. Careful not to spill a grain of salt or fleck of pepper and making sure my rag hit every surface on each container, I held the shakers up to the light and smiled. I was experiencing in my body the teaching that giving and receiving are one. As I tended to these objects with love and attention, I was the first recipient of that love and attention. Bliss!
In a blip of unconsciousness in a moment of transition, I turned to place the salt and pepper shakers on the cabinet where they lived and accidentally set the salt shaker a little too close to the edge. It teetered and fell to the hard tile below and shattered into a hundred pieces, sending grains of salt, the metal lid and tiny shards of glass racing across the floor.
I immediately noticed an authentic sense of disappointment arise—I really liked that salt shaker. Slithering in on top of disappointment was a subtle layer of self-hate in the form of a conversation producing guilt and shame. I cleaned up the mess and it dropped in that it would be helpful to communicate about what happened. There was a strong temptation to go into explanations and excuses in my note to the Guestmaster, but the Mentor encouraged me to keep it simple. “I broke the salt shaker” is all I wrote. When the Guestmaster answered simply, “Thank you for the information,” I was awestruck by the compassion and lack of drama in the exchange.
Ego could not stand for there not to be a problem and it continued relentlessly trying to get me to feel bad for my carelessness. I brought it up in guidance the next day and the person offering guidance provided a most surprising perspective. “Who knows?” they said. “What if by breaking the shaker you liberated the salt!” Wow! Conditioned ideas of right/wrong, good/bad were suddenly turned on their head, and I was no longer willing to entertain a conversation about feeling bad. Who is to say that breaking that salt shaker wasn’t the perfect thing! It is what is after all, and no matter what happens I am not going to allow ego to punish and abuse this human being. In the aftermath of that salt shaker breaking, beautiful insights about compassionate care, clear communication, and the transient nature of things came flooding in, and I welcomed the whole experience as gift. Everything is the Buddha: the salt shaker and the hard tile floor, the practitioner who lovingly cared for the shaker, the practitioner who accidentally tipped it over, and the guidance that helped to transform an “unfortunate” event into a blessing—all Buddha.