Fragile and Uncertain Creatures

On the top floor of the temple is a long, high ceilinged hallway between the residents bedrooms. The carpet is a mottled beige, worn down the centre. Dim lightbulbs hang from long cords in paper lampshades.

Just as you go into the hallway, look up, and you will see a stain on the ceiling and high up on the wall. It looks damp. The thick wallpaper is curled up at the edges. Salt crystals have formed along one edge of the dark stain.

When I pressed my hand up against it a year ago it didn’t feel damp. Sometimes I think it has grown, sometimes I’m not sure. I like to believe it hasn’t, because that would excuse my not having done anything about it.

Mostly, I don’t think about it at all.

I asked the guys who repaired our roof and chimneys to take a look while they were here. They didn’t, and I didn’t ask them again. Sometimes I manage to chase builders, but I have to work myself up to it, stirring up some frustration to fuel going outside my comfort zone. Sometimes I don’t manage to.

One day, while the chimneys were being repaired, I went for a walk with some friends. It was a cold, bright day and we walked to the White Leaved Oak, an old tree of local legend. When we returned home, Jnanamati spotted us and warned us there were six builders cleaning our flat.

I had blocked off the fireplace a few days earlier, when dust had started coming down in to it, but that morning a chunk of brick had broken through my makeshift barrier: clouds of ash and brick dust had exploded into the flat. The fire alarm had gone off, the cats had fled, and it had made a mess.

One builder was mopping the floor, another cleaning our kitchen area. Most of our books survived, but some didn’t.

A few days after the explosion I looked at the wall next to our small dining table. It is rough hewn granite, painted over many times in white (behind the wall, the hillside). I couldn’t make any sense of what I was seeing. The shadows were all wrong: upside-down.  After a moment of confusion, I rubbed my finger through one of the shadows, resting on top of one of the white stones: ash and brickdust.

Sometimes I get a little closer to changing when I notice the things which I find difficult. Sometimes I don’t. Pure awareness is not always (not often?) enough. I read a Sylvia Boorstein quote about meditation today:

Mindfulness meditation doesn’t change life. Life remains as fragile and unpredictable as ever. Meditation changes the heart’s capacity to accept life as it is.

Perhaps we can also say that meditation doesn’t change us either, or at least not in the ways we sometimes hope for. We remain as fragile and unpredictable as ever, but move towards accepting our fragile and unpredictable state.

When I see myself shying away from calling the builders I can react with tenderness, rather than with harshness. And that must be a move towards the good, even if the stain remains.


Inkstain by Max Stanworth shared under a a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)


  1. Meditation has peeled back the layers and shown me the fragile, unpredictable me that I’ve always pretended didn’t exist. Turning towards that acceptance is painful and liberating in equal measures.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *