The Roar of the Everyday

How Do I Get There, Then?

There is an old Taoist story that goes like this:  

Long, long ago in ancient China there lived an emperor who found he could not concentrate any more. He sat in his study, looking over the stacks and stacks of documents he had to read, and he just could not focus.

 

So, the emperor sent for his chief counselor.

 

When the chief counselor arrived, there was emperor, pacing and pacing, looking very, very irritable.

 

The emperor said to chief counselor: “I can’t read any more. I can’t focus. I can’t stop my mind from jumping from thing to thing! Do something to make this stop!”

 

“At your command,” said the chief counselor. And so it was that the chief counselor called the three best artists in all the land and asked each to paint a painting that would bring the emperor true tranquility. The winner would be richly rewarded.

 

And so it was that the three greatest artists in the land each painted a masterpiece called “True Tranquility.” And the chief counselor brought the emperor to see the unveiling of these three pictures, so that he could choose the one that brought him true tranquility.

 

The first painting they looked at depicted a beautiful and peaceful lake surrounded by tall mountains. It was a beautiful scene; the surface of the lake was perfectly still. The picture conveyed a deeply peaceful feeling. The emperor smiled: “How beautiful!”

 

The second painting was of a snowscape. It evoked the silence that comes after a snowfall, a deep silence that goes beyond the mere lack of noise, because the snow banks absorb all sound. The emperor smiled. “Yes, how beautiful!” said the emperor. “How like silence!”

 

The emperor and chief counselor came to the third painting. It was of a roaring waterfall. “Oh, my!” said the chief counselor. “The artist must have misunderstood! Get this out of here at once!”

 

But the emperor said, “No! Wait! This is the painting I must have for true tranquility.”

 

“What?” said the chief counselor. “It is the picture of a maelstrom!”

 

“Yes,” said the emperor. “But look more closely. There—it is a nest. And inside, a bird is sleeping. Look at how the bird is at peace, despite the roar. That bird has such quietness within, then it can rest in profound quietness, despite all the noise around it.  That is the essence of true tranquility!”

 

The emperor got the point: the feeling that all is well might come to us because of the weather, but if that’s the case, we will be waiting most of the time. We must find a way to know that all is well even as we sit beside the roar of daily existence.

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