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From the Heart: Good News For Crackpots

by Alan Cohen


An elderly Chinese woman brought two large pots to a stream to fetch water for her household each day. The pots hung at two ends of a stick she carried on her shoulders. One of the pots was perfect, but the other one had a crack in it.

At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a long time this went on, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water each day.

The perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfection, miserable that it could only perform half of what it had been created to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, one day the pot spoke to the woman by the stream: “I am embarrassed because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.”

The old woman smiled and answered, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”

While you may criticize yourself for your flaws, they may serve a purpose. What you perceive as your shortcomings give you character, and may endear you to others, as well as serve them. Be not hasty to put yourself down for your foibles. What you think is wrong with you may be what is right with you, and your worst characteristic or experience might be the best.

I do a lot of work with people in 12-step programs, mostly members of Alcoholics Anonymous. I find them to be among the most honest, dedicated, and faithful teachers I know. They have a lot of compassion and heart, and sincerely seek to help others where they can. They have been tempered by the agony of their experience, and parlayed their growth into a powerful asset to uplift their lives and the world. While their addiction was once an albatross around their neck, it has been transformed into gift. The most difficult part of their life paved the way for one far better.

Beware of people who are well-adjusted. The question is, “well-adjusted to what?” If you are well-adjusted to being nice to everyone and doing what people expect you to do, you are probably pretty bored and boring. If you are somewhat maladjusted, you are probably making a bigger difference in the world and having more fun.

One of my favorite actors is Sean Penn, who has had a longtime reputation as a “bad boy.” He was married to Madonna, got into drunken fistfights, and is seen as a loose canon. Yet Sean has also directed his energy and passion toward positive social causes. He took out a full-page ad in the Washington Post openly criticizing President Bush for the war in Iraq, and has chosen some excellent roles championing the causes of the downtrodden, such as a developmentally disabled man in I am Sam, a prisoner in Dead Man Walking, and a gay politician in Milk. The red hot passion that has gotten him into trouble has also uplifted many when directed meaningfully. If Sean Penn were well-adjusted, he would not be, well, Sean Penn.

If you have felt like a misfit in this world, you may have more company than you know. You may be a part of a very large group (perhaps over 50 million in the U.S.) called “cultural creatives,” a term coined by sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson to describe people who are disenchanted with traditional religion and societal roles, hold visionary values, and seek a lifestyle unlike the masses.

If you are not normal (and who is? Stephen Wright asks, “How do you feel to know that half of the people you know are below average?”) one of your major life lessons may be to find and claim your right place in the great web of life. If you have felt weird for being spiritual, gay, not interested in climbing the corporate ladder, bored with television, unwilling to sell your soul for a mortgage, or bashful about revealing your psychic experiences, you may be closer to home than you know. You may be living exactly the life you came to live, and you simply need confidence to claim it without apology or compromise.

In the film The Lake House, one character feels lost and confused and does not know where to go. A friend advises her, “Go where you feel most like yourself.” So, too, you must go the place and be with the people where you feel most like yourself. You don’t need to attend family gatherings, church services, or business meetings where you don’t belong. They may be right for others, but if they are not right for you, you must seek people who match you at your core. Those who truly belong to you will greet you with open arms and you will feel like you have come home after a long trek in the wilderness. Then your jigsaw piece will fit and you will realize, like the cracked pot that created a long row of beautiful flowers, that the universe has a place for you.


Alan Cohen is the author of many popular inspirational books, including The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and I Had it All the Time. Join Alan this November 8-13 in Sedona for a life-changing retreat, “The Opportunity Before You.” For more information on this program, Alan’s free inspirational quote program, or his daily Wisdom for Today lessons via email, visit www.alancohen.com, email info@alancohen.com, or phone 1-800-568-3079.


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