Saturday, January 25, 2020

Is That So?

There’s an old Zen story about a young woman who gets pregnant and refuses to tell her parents who the father is. Under great pressure, she finally names a local Zen monk. The parents confront the monk and he responds “Is that so?” When the baby is born, they leave him with the monk and demand that he care for him. “Is that so?” he replies and takes the baby in. A year later, the young woman confesses that the identity of the real father and comes to the monk to take the baby back. “Is that so?” he says as he hands over the child. 

Who amongst us has that equanimity to accept whatever life hands us even when we know it is unfair, unjust, damaging to our reputation and just plain wrong? Certainly not me. And yet, in a recent series of events in which for the third time, I’ve been unjustly accused and punished for utter nonsense, my character and reputation attacked, my lovely final year at the school on the edge of disaster, I waffled back and forth between utter outrage and marshalling my forces for a major battle and trying out this “Is that so?” posture. Believe me, it was not easy. But in the end, it proved to be the right response and frankly, I’m astonished that I was able to pull it off. Though I stumbled and fell often, my feet walked mostly on the high road when others took the low. And it turned out to be a better path. 

But take note. “Is that so?” doesn’t mean a casual “whatever. I don’t care.” It comes with the price of still caring deeper than the norm, still feeling the full force of betrayal and injustice, but growing large enough to put it in perspective and diminish its power to throw you down. There was a period in both jazz and counter-culture where “cool” was in, a detached persona that glided through hot-headed emotion. But mostly that was shutting down feeling rather than letting it burn red-hot and containing it so it didn’t burn oneself and others. 

Hope this little Zen story may be useful to you someday. I had a great week at school and my sense of who I am and what I have to offer grew three sizes bigger. Sometimes we not only learn to accept those who transgress against us, but ultimately thank them for making us work harder to re-commit to our work and vision. I won’t forget, but I will forgive. Happy weekend!

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