The famous non-violent Vietnam war hero, monk and spiritual writer, Thich Nhat Hahn wrote of a very mild man who was a good man and minded his business, One day a young girl got pregnant and in her quest to hide the identity of the father she blamed it on this mild mannered man…The parents came and accused him, he answered, “I am sorry you feel that way.” Later they brought the baby to him and said it would have to be responsible for this child and he answered, “so be it, if that is your belief, I will care for the child.”
Years later the family came back and said they now wanted the child back and he answered if that is your need and your belief so be it.”
The Master Tich Naht Hanh tells the story with more detail and fills the images to bring this story to life. I am repeating the little that I remember of it because I have had occasion recently to feel accused of sins that I did not feel were on my soul, but being accused, I felt like a sinner. As I was going through this period of time where the gossip and the stories were told and re told and even embellished I often thought of this Asian man who took everything said about him in stride. But, it was more than in stride, it is as if he had a mission to not allow himself to become engaged in anyones drama, even if it meant not correcting a gross misperception.
I wish I had that power, that right mindedness to let perceptions take form in other people’s minds and to let these scenes just become the drama of the person creating the drama. But I am no Monk, no Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be. And as the rest of the stanza goes:
I always resonated with Proofrock, a man full of high sentence and a bit obtuse. I always wanted to be a man more useful that I appeared to myself. There are times when I wondered about the 39 years that I spent “counseling” people, “analyzing” people and in those attempts to support and to hold up and even to lend my ego when it was needed–I so often wondered, am I really helping. Is there a piece of wisdom that I am imparting.
I never understood why at the end of a day of intense psychoanalysis when I was exhausted, I wondered why I should be tired. I would think, I have not labored, i did not sweat, I was not out in the heat of the day digging with a pick ax and a shovel. I only thought that sweat from my brow was hard work. Intellectual activity–that is chicken feed. Intellectual activity, emotional activity–these are mild states to be tolerated no matter how sever they are.
I think I was wrong. A deep desire to reach someone emotionally may not require the tools of a pick-ax, but they require sweat from the heart and even gut wrenching pain that can come up from such depths that you wonder if you will ever see the bottom, the end to the pit of pain.
And what makes it even more interesting is that it does not even need yo be your pain–sometimes someone else’s pain will carve that same deep quake. Well, i suppose this was an 8.9 because something rattled far and across the land and shook buildings that I thought could never be rocked–but they were and what has fallen in Porto Prince or Santiago can rock New York or London or my quaint New England with as much earth shattering tremors.
As I think back to the mild mannered man who never needed to correct the other party’s misperceptions, I wonder if I even want to be that kind of passive, non-violent man. I see the very deep spiritual quietude that he must have in order to refuse to refute even evil stories about him, but I fail to understand why the lack of defense is applauded.
It has always seemed to me at least in my clinical work that as much as I found it difficult to mirror and join projections of hatred, it always felt wrong to validate a paranoid projection. I think that delusions are such a common enemy of my mortal soul that I feel a sort of Michael the Archangel righteousness when it comes to correcting injustices.
I do not think I have an answer here. It is more of a question. When does confronting a delusion injure the party being questioned and when is it simply a human comfort to let that person struggle with their version of reality.
What is real, the perception or the fact, the data? It almost leads me directly to the notion that spiritual solutions are not in competition with scientific fact they exist side by side more of a complement that a competition.
If I hurt you and did not mean to does your knowing that i did not mean to make it hurt less? And if the answer is yes, then is psychic pain simply a matter of perception?And what would be the extent to which that could be true. If I accidently drop a bomb on Berlin or London and then I say, “oops, I did not mean to do that.” Does it hurt Berlin or London less.
Is the nature of an attack connected to the perception of the attack and does quantity of attack matter. These relationship questions plague couples of any kind and sort. Mothers and father, sons and daughters, husbands and wives and nations to nations the question of intention and the acts of diplomacy are closely linked.
Forgiveness and acceptance are related, but not identical twins. For the real act of forgiveness to take place it must be a negotiated contract. Acceptance on the other hand is some thing that I can do all by myself and it does not require the other party to even participate in the equation. I am sorry, I forgive you is a two party exchange.
I accept that what happened simply happened and I must find a way to go forward an let go of the event is a one party system. I can go solo by letting go and accepting things as they are. But the real heart of forgiveness is a coordinated, an arrived at, negotiated, well understood two-sided contract.
And on the way to the theater on the ides of march Julius Caesar said, “Well, the ides of march have come.” To which the seer responded, “Oh yes, they have come, but they are not gone.”