When Things Go Awry: A Reflection on Buddhist Living


The following reflection originally appeared in the newsletter I sent out on January 19th, 2024.

Feel free to read just the bold words and skip the rest.



The Part About the Disaster

This past Wednesday at 4am, Marisa, my future sister-in-law opened our bedroom door, and said, “you guys, there’s a burst pipe in the garage.”

I had to laugh for a moment.

For the prior couple of days, I had felt a sickness was coming on, with my throat becoming quite tickly Tuesday evening.  In turn, I made sure to get to bed extra early so I could get a big night of sleep.  But, it seemed, life had other plans!

As we made our way to the garage, connected to the house that the three of us had just bought a few weeks before (!!), and moved into a week prior, we saw water gushing from a pipe in the wall.  The floor was flooded and filled wall-to-wall with boxes of things that hadn’t been moved in yet.

We went to try to turn off the main water shut-off valve, but it was broken.  Water continued gushing.  I’ll save the tedious details, but the next three hours were spent moving important things out of the garage, sweeping water, making unanswered phone calls to plumbers (it was 4am!), watching Youtube videos, and googling articles on how to make the water stop.

Eventually, a neighbor began stirring about around 6:30am, we knocked on his door, and he noted where his city water main shut-off was located on his property.  We knew it was somewhere, but as our entire yard was caked in several inches of ice, it was a crapshoot until his pointer.  We then began shoveling in the area he suggested, found the shut-off, and the water stopped flowing.  Whew.

Once business hours set in, we called about 40 plumbers and finally found someone who could see us the following day. Everyone else either didn’t answer or said they had dozens if not hundreds of people with the same issue and the waitlists were sometimes weeks into the future!

In any case, after about 24 hours without water and a few hundred bucks later, we got water restored!  


The Part About Delusion

At one point around 6am, my fiancé Mariana and I were sweeping water, and Marisa overheard our conversation from the Googling room, and then with a laugh, told our friend Mes, who is staying with us and helped with the flood triage, “David is over there talking about delusion!”

A delusion is a wrong view.  It’s a way of perceiving/thinking about something that bubbles up into suffering — i.e. frustration, anxiety, anger, despair, grasping, resistance, and on and on.

The possible delusions in this situation were endless, but at the core, they are mostly just different flavors of “it shouldn’t be like this.  Here are some possibilities that I noticed arise in me just a smidge:

  • “This isn’t fair — after twenty years of renting, including many years in Wisconsin, why now, after a week of home ownership, does my first pipe burst!”
  • “Couldn’t it happen any other time; like not when I’m feeling sick, or once we were more properly moved in, or once we had enough time to learn where our city shut-off was located.”
  • This sucks — it’s a terrible occurrence, an awful thing to happen.”
  • “I don’t want to be doing this; I want to be sleeping”

While attending to all the tasks, I found it so interesting to observe in my own mind how different delusions could sneak in.  I remembered a conversation I had with senior teacher Alexis Santos, shortly after I returned from two years as a monk.  I asked him for advice on practicing in daily life and his first response was, “keep an eye out for views; they are very tricky and convincing.”

But here’s the beauty of the dhamma — when we see our delusions with clear awareness, we don’t have to believe them.  Similar to the conspiracy theories of a neurotic co-worker, we can hear them without buying into them.  If we are diligent with this non-buying-in, over the long-term, the less frequently and intensely they arise.

In that experience, the delusions were present, but light enough that I could just see them and not get involved.  I managed to stay in a pretty grounded, cheerful mood throughout it all.  Of course, it certainly helped all four of us were pretty calm amidst it all.  Having a supportive community is a fast track to a dhamma mind.


The Part About Wisdom

The opposite of delusion is wisdom, aka right view.  It’s to understand that right now, it’s like this.  There is no such thing as a problem.  There is only nature, only what’s happening right now.  It’s our mind that doesn’t understand that and turns happenings into problems.

In that spirit, that morning, what kept coming to mind was this quote from my teacher, “acknowledge and observe whatever happens, whether pleasant or unpleasant, in a relaxed way.”

If we all really took that quote to heart, and applied it in a deep and profound way, our suffering would vanish instantly.  Note that this is more than a surface thought.  It’s a way of seeing reality that’s a few levels deeper.

As I shared above, it curiously doesn’t necessarily mean that our delusions, cravings, and aversions disappear altogether.  Instead, it’s a taking refuge in awareness.  It’s an ability to see that here is awareness and over there are emotions, thoughts, reactions, sickly body sensations, and of course, a flooded garage and a burst pipe.  When we cultivate a long-term meditation practice, it’s our awareness that allows us to understand that quote on a deeper level.  As my teacher would say, there is just awareness and objects of awareness.

I’ve heard counts of many long-term meditators approaching their deathbed or going through great loss, but remaining remarkably at peace.  My own teacher, Sayadaw U Tejaniya, described holding his dying father in his arms, and feeling nothing but equanimity and compassion.  This possibility of radically allowing the moment isn’t cold or aloof, but a form of love that is freed from delusion.


The Part About the Objections

Whenever I talk about radically allowing the moment or releasing our desire for things to be different, there is pretty much always someone who objects, saying, well there are some things you can’t just allow.

However, note how in the story, I didn’t wake up and say, “the garage is flooding, it is what it is, I’ll deal with it once I’ve gotten a good night of sleep.”  No!  I got up and attended to the issue.  As I’ve written about before, the dhamma is basically proposing a two-step process; where we first accept what is, and second take wise action if appropriate (or abide in peace if not appropriate).  If we really think about it, the only truly sane action comes from this foundation of total acceptance.

Interestingly, getting up at 4am and needing to just launch into my day did actually exacerbate my illness, bringing it on more intensively.  I was really out of sorts on Wednesday and Thursday, but what to do?  Sometimes one needs to attend to the most pressing disaster.

It is wisdom that discerns, without second-guessing or blaming, where action is appropriate.  In this case, attending to the burst pipe was the most pressing.  My health may have temporarily suffered, but I’m already on the road to recovery!



For me, meditation & the dhamma isn’t just something I do for an hour a day with my eyes closed.  It’s a lifestyle.  It’s an all-the-time practice.  In every moment, can I greet right now with presence, wisdom, and love. I’m not always perfect in this, or even close to it, but those moments as well are learning opportunities!

I don’t see the point of meditation as getting really still, feeling great, and having an empty mind.  Rather, it’s to learn how to use our mind to meet the moment with wisdom. There’s a reason we call meditation a practice.  We are using those formal meditation periods as practice for the rest of our life, like the disaster of a burst pipe, the excitement of closing on a first home, or all the mundane days in between.

Anyhow, I share this story today mostly to humanize meditative practice and share how it can be transformative no matter what’s happening.  I’d encourage you to deeply contemplate this pith instruction:

“Acknowledge and observe whatever happens, whether pleasant or unpleasant, in a relaxed way.”


Note: here is a guided meditation I recorded inspired by that quote.

If you would like to get a monthly’ish email with reflections like this one, along with some event updates, sign up here for the newsletter.