At times in our lives our minds may become flooded with misperceptions. This can bring about great internal suffering within our being. We spend time thinking about what will say or how we will take action in a situation that in most cases is not what it seems.
How do we avoid getting lost in the turmoil of false perceptions? By practicing understanding and compassionate communication.
To illustrate the suffering that clinging to false perceptions can bring to one’s life, I want to share a story from Thich Nhat Hanh’s, “You are Here”.
“In my country, Vietnam, there is a famous story about a young couple who lived in the seventeenth century…War broke out and the young man, Truong, was called up to serve in the army. His wife was pregnant, but he had to leave for the front all the same. They cried a great deal.
The young man stayed in the army for three years before he was allowed to come home. On the day fo his return, his wife was very happy to see him. She went and stood at entrance to the village with her little son, and when they meant, they cried for joy. Then the young woman went to the market to get what she needed to make an offering to the family ancestor shrine…
…While the young woman in our story was at the market, the father tried to persuade his little boy to call him ‘Daddy’. But the child refused, saying ‘No, you are not my daddy. My daddy is another man who comes every evening. My mommy talks to him from a long time, she cried with him. Every time my mommy sits down, he sits down also. And every time she lies down, he lies down too.’
All of Truong’s happiness evaporated on the spot. He became like a block of ice. When the wife came back from the market, she sensed that something had happened. Her husband did not look at her or talk to her, so she prepared the offering silently in the kitchen…
…Instead of staying home with his family to celebrate their reunion, he went to a bar and spent the whole day there trying to drown his sorrows…
…For three days in a row, the young man did not come home until late at night. His suffering was too great. He never said a word to his wife or looked at her, and her suffering was also very great. By the fourth day, the pain was too much for her, and she threw herself into the river and drowned.
The young man, on hearing the news, went back to his house. That night he stayed with the child and when it was dark he lit the gas lamp. Suddenly, the little boy began to should, ‘There, there is father” and he pointed to Truong’s shadow on the wall. ‘Every night my daddy comes, and Mommy talks to him from hours and hours, and she cries a lot too. Every time my mommy sits, he sits down too.’
The truth was suddenly all too clear. The man who had come every evening was actually the mother’s shadow. The truth was that they young woman had waited faithfully for her husband. But one day the little boy came home and said, ‘Mommy, every other boy and girl has a father. Where is my father?’ So she pointed to her shadow on the wall and said, ‘That is your father. You can say, Good morning, Daddy and Good night, Daddy to him’. And she had talked to the shadow to convince the boy. Now the truth was out, but it was too late.”
We must contemplate our perceptions carefully. Ask yourself, “Am I sure of my perceptions.”