October 8 – Breaking the Jar – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
“A man raised a baby swan in a glass jar, but as the bird grew it became stuck in the jar. The man was caught now, for the only way to free the thing was to break the jar, killing the swan.” Zen saying
This parable speaks powerfully to the clear containments we set about the ones we love, never imagining that who and what we love grows. What we set up as parameters, out of fear or arrogance or even out of the best intentions of protection, can suffocate the very thing we hold precious.
Even more devastating and subtle are the ways in which we jar ourselves. If our mind is the man raising the baby bird, then the swan is our heart. Too often, in an effort to protect ourselves from being hurt, we place our soft and growing heart in a clear jar of distrust, never dreaming that the heart continues, like the baby swan, to grow. Too often, we can contain our way of being within our way of surviving.
This is how we can wall in our hearts over time. And even the most unassuming and cautious of beings can find themselves having to break their hearts—their way of feeling in the world—in order to free themselves of their hardened clear resolve.
But many of us simply live within the hardness, if we can call such a constraint living. With such suffocation of heart in mind, Rachel Naomi Remen wisely asks,“Is it possible to live so defensively that you never get to live at all?” At the heart of her question and this little Zen story is the difference between surviving and thriving, between existing and living, between resignation and joy.
As human beings, our distrust builds a hardened resolve over our innocence, the way that silver tarnishes when exposed to air. Only the quiet, daily courage to be can let the air soften our hearts again.