Closed minds and hearts are the result of a failure of trust.
In response to a slight tugging at my shirtsleeve, my attention is redirected away from this search for answers within the words of others and into the eyes of a three-year-old child, who asks, “Find daddy?”…
My father’s death left my mother, a young woman deaf from infancy, with two daughters and pregnant with her first son. I do not recall whose idea it was to wander outside the house early that morning as my mother slept. I can, however, imagine my young self following my older sister as if an invisible thread that tied us together tugged me along as she, with her five-year-old world view, undertook an emotional duty to find our father. Did we believe we could find him fly fishing in the creek that ran alongside the house? Or was there something about the water that enticed us into abandoning our search? I can recall to this day the cessation of anxiety and arising rapture that coincided with my surrender to the inevitable. Two young men, I am told, rescued us both from this search for our father.
Shortly after this incident my mother remarried, and by the time I was seven years old, she was divorced and pregnant with her fifth child. Her fourth child, taken by his father in the dark of night, vanished within the tangled web of adults who regressed into childlike behaviors under incompetent custody laws.
My reflective mind recalls the unbound inquisitiveness that carried my six-year-old emotional self into the house from school knowing on that day my mother’s fifth child was to be born. I can still feel the internal rebound that coincides with walking into an unseen plate of glass as my being absorbed, not the tone of grief, but the intensity of frustration within my grandmother’s assertion, “The baby died!”
The Buddha’s recommendation to abstain from false speech is found in the position that people connect with one another within an atmosphere of mutual trust, where each draws upon the belief that the other will speak the truth. It is suggested therefore that families and societies will fall into chaos as one untruth shatters trust, as it is the nature of lies to proliferate through attempts to weave a harmonious tapestry of reality.
When I reflect upon those times in which I experience an intense urge to say other than what I believe is true, I know it is fed by the anxiety intrinsic to uncertainty, and inherent with the aloneness of expulsion. At other times, the drive seems to come from a sense of nothingness that seeks validation through inclusion with others or continuity within mangled and haphazard memories. It feels as though it is an act that preserves or ensures a sense of control, power, or protection.
What this force blinds me to is the powerlessness that coincides with the telling of an untruth, as well as the emotional separation that overlaps the fear of discovery. It also creates the need for another story to support the one prior. Therefore, the beliefs that compel me to lie are but a layer of lies within a lie.
The intensity of my grandmother’s words served to erect an unbreakable barrier: “This is not to be spoken of,” and thus a door of understanding remained closed between us throughout the remainder of her life. It is her handwriting within a book authored by one of her older sisters that gives me a glimpse into her private struggles: …
When I read these words, I come to an understanding of a woman who suffered less at the hands of others and more from an unforgiving ego fettered to her own grief, shame, remorse, and guilt. Therefore, I have become acquainted with a woman whose own suffering blinded her to the threads of grief and loss my three-year-old self had previously woven into a tapestry of death and to the subsequent re-weaving of the incongruence between my father’s going to heaven, my brother’s disappearance, the baby’s death, and the near-drowning of my older sister and I.
Two weeks after my grandmother declared the baby dead, my infant sister–but not my father or my brother–returned to the family.
~B. Catherine Koeford, Meditative Journey with Saldage
With this history in mind, Thich Nhat Hanh opens a door to compassionate healing.