When Next I Spill My Tea

The morning in June, 2002, that I was going to be ordained in the Order of Interbeing, I was doing walking meditation after breakfast. I was staying at Upper Hamlet of Plum Village, in France, where the ceremony was going to be held. Because people who were staying in the other hamlets had to travel, on foot from Lower Hamlet, and by bus from New Hamlet, to reach Upper Hamlet for the ceremony, I had quite a bit of time after breakfast and before the ceremony started. So I was doing walking meditation on a oval path in Upper Hamlet that goes around the lotus pond and by the dharma hall.

As I walked, I reflected on how I came to be there at Plum Village to be ordained in the Order. As I reflected, I realized that I would not have found my way to SnowFlower and to Thay if it were not for my ex-wife. As some of you know, my relationship with my ex-wife, particularly since our divorce, has been difficult at best. But if it had not been for my divorce, and the suffering and loneliness that created, I would not have found my way to my local Sangha and started going to retreats with Thay and would not be walking there that morning. So even though I often thought of my marriage to my ex-wife as a horrible mistake, without that mistake I would not be having this blessing.

And I realized that it was not only that “mistake” that contributed to this moment – but that all of the major circumstances of my life, ones that I considered achievements and ones that I considered mistakes, had moved me in directions that resulted in my presence in Plum Village that morning waiting to be ordained.

And I remembered an incident a week or so earlier, when I was in New Hamlet at a meeting of OI members and aspirants and senior monastics, and Sister Gina, sitting just in front of me, had knocked over a full container of coffee on the nearly brand new lavender meditation pad she was sitting on. She had laughed, with some embarassment, but with genuine good humor about what she had done, as people scurried about to help her clean it up.

I reflected on how, in my own inner life, whenever I made a mistake, I was so hard on myself, with such profound self-condemnation – and as I continued my walking meditation, I admired the grace and ease with which Sister Gina had accepted her momentary clumsiness, and laughed, cleaned it up, and let it go.

And I remembered the story that Sharon Salzberg tells, about how she was planning on a one month retreat doing lovingkindness meditation, and spent the first week doing lovingkindness meditation for herself. It felt mechanical and uninspired all week, and then she received a call about a family emergency, and had to leave the retreat suddenly. She was distressed about how the week had gone, felt selfish that she had spent the whole week focused on herself, and was rushing around packing when she dropped and broke a clay teapot that was a gift and precious to her. Staring at the pieces of the teapot, she said out loud, “You are SUCH a KLUTZ – and I love you!”

And I remembered that it was the tradition in Plum Village for new dharma teachers, who are receiving the lamp transmission from Thay, to write a poem to reflect their understanding – and I felt inspired to emulate this practice privately for my own ordination. So I wrote the following little poem:

One mistake after another
Is how I got here.
When next I spill my tea
I’ll laugh out loud!

Don Katz – True Precious Ocean

  • Martin

    Great don, I love your story and gatha :-)

  • Phyllis aka True Response

    I enjoyed your story so much. It really took me to Plum Village and Sister Gina as well as reaffirming that in the end,
    everything really is alright.

  • Jeffrey Christensen

    Thank you for sharing this. It was quite timely for me. Being in a similar situation, I will work on being thankful that my mistakes have lead me to the practice.

  • Han Shan Heshang

    Amituofo! :) _()_

  • guest

    I learn from this story. Thank you. _/|_

  • Lisa

    Your post is very relevant for me, and it has helped and inspired me. Thanks for sharing.