A Buddhist monk named Ajahn Brahm once told me about his early days in a monastery. His first project was to build a new brick wall for the community. Ajahn Brahm was a handyman of sorts and wanted to impress his fellow monks with his skills. He was also a perfectionist. So he was committed to building the most perfect wall—no matter how long it took.
He carefully layered brick after brick, painstakingly aligning them with meticulous precision. Weeks later, after placing the final brick, he stepped back to proudly admire his work. Much to his dismay, however, he noticed two bricks that were glaringly misaligned. But the wall had already set and dried. There was nothing he could do about it. Ajahn Brahm slumped to the ground, mortified, staring at the offending bricks. The wall was ruined, his work a disgrace.
The next day, the head monk—who he had so desperately wanted to impress—arrived at the monastery and asked for a tour of the new sanctuary. After walking all around the grounds, the head monk said earnestly, “I would like to see the wall you built. I’ve heard great things about it.”
Ajahn Brahm felt a heaviness in his heart. He had purposely been avoiding the wall during the tour. But he knew he couldn’t refuse the honorable monk’s request. He slowly and begrudgingly lead him to the defective wall, a blatant reminder of how he failed.
Upon reaching the wall, they stood a few feet away from it in silence. The head monk continued to gaze at the creation, as if meditating on each brick. Ajahn Brahm could not bring himself to look, choosing instead to stare at the ground, bowing his head in shame. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the head monk broke the silence.
“This is the most beautiful wall I have ever seen,” he said, his eyes sparkling with delight. “It is a work of art!”
Ajahn Brahm felt even more embarrassed. Raising his head, he said plaintively, “Please, with all due respect, you don’t need to say kind things to make me feel better. I know I made a mistake. I’m so sorry. I’ll do better next time.” His eyes fixated on his gross blunder. “I can see those two bad bricks. And I know you can too.”
The monk gently placed his hand on Ajahn Brahm’s shoulder. “I can see those two bad bricks, too,” he said with a comforting smile. “But I’m focusing on the nine-hundred-and-ninety-eight good bricks.”
When we fall into the habit of focusing only on the two bad bricks, we can easily forget about the nine-hundred-and-ninety-eight good bricks in our life. Open your eyes to them and you will see the wondrous wall that you have built. Open your heart to it and you will experience the remarkable life that you have created.
1. Reflect on something that has been challenging in your life.
2. Imagine it being symbolized as one or two “bad bricks” as part of a large brick wall.
3. After acknowledging their presence on the wall, allow your focus to expand, as if panning out of a scene in a film, and notice the rest of your extraordinary wall.
4. Focus on the other beautiful bricks, all the things for which you can be grateful.
5. Realize how magnificent this wall is, an expression of your life.