When I woke with these words this morning, another two words came to mind a little later; comfort words.
It’s alright or some derivative of same is what everyone wants to hear in times of trouble. Even the tough ones, the– give it to me straight, people I believe deep down want to hear them. We all do. You’d have to be a little bit different, perhaps not in a good way, to want the unpleasant and the terrible news instead.
What’s more the words work. Anyone with kids will know their magic. They chase away monsters, scrapes, bumps, bruises, sibling induced tears and all kinds of other upsets.
As I’ve touched on at the outset, everyone loves hearing It’s alright, compared to Mr Huston we have a problem. You’ve got three months at best, get your earthly affairs sorted. You’d have to be real different to crave the latter; you’d want to hit that stairway to heaven real bad.
Something else happened however, whilst this post was fermenting in my mind. Two things actually. A Twitter follower sent me one of those random DM’s. For those not on Twitter that’s an acronym for Direct Message. I don’t think anyone particularly enjoys DM’s, unless they are from people you know. This one however I decided to read. Attached to the brief message was a link to 5 Zen stories that were going to change my perspective immediately.
So I read the stories and the one I’m about share with you reminded me of a more profound reason those words felt so good. More on that reason shortly. First the story.
The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbours as one living a pure life.
A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.
This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.
In great anger the parent went to the master. “Is that so?” was all he would say.
After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbours and everything else he needed.
A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth – the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.
The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back.
Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: “Is that so?”
As you may have picked up from the story, Hakuin said, Is that so? to both the so called good news and the bad news. When he was being accused of doing a little hanky panky with the girl and fathering a child, he said, Is that so?
When the child was brought to him to bring up, unjustly, the reaction was calm and pleasant.
And when the girl’s parents came apologising profusely, exonerating him, and wanting to take the child off his hands, again the answer was Is that so?
Amazing dude Zen master, Hakuin. He had overcome what I consider to be the single greatest obstacle to enlightenment, and ultimate release from ego. That being the ability to simply observe and experience without becoming emotionally involved. That detached observation is when one also realises that It’s Alright. It’s all alright.
ps … thanks for the DM Monksense