‘One evening, as Mulla Nasruddin was setting out to call on some of his friends, an old friend happened to come along. It was twenty years since they had seen each other. Both were beside themselves with joy. “It is ages since we met.” said Nasruddin. “I am so very happy to see you. You rest awhile and refresh yourself for the journey must have been long and tiring. I shall go quickly to see a few friends I have promised to visit.”
“Oh no!” said the friend “I have not the heart to waste even a minute of your company. I will go along with you and we can talk on the way, if you will lend me a coat, for my clothes are dirty.”
Now Nasruddin had a set of expensive clothes presented to him by the king, which he had kept by for a befitting occasion. They were an expensive coat, a turban, and a pair of shoes. He had never worn them but today was a special day, and what could be more befitting than that his childhood friend should make use of them! He quickly brought them out and gave them to his friend. He was so happy that the clothes had come in handy at the right moment!
But when the friend appeared, dressed in the royal attire, Nasruddin felt a twinge of jealousy. The clothes looked gorgeous and his friend looked so handsome in them. Had he done a wise thing by giving him these clothes. He looked almost like a servant before him! It is too hard on a man to see another looking rich and handsome in his clothes, while he looked like a beggar before him! Had the clothes belonged to the friend, even then it would have been a difficult situation — but this was worse!
Nasruddin tried to get over this feeling by telling himself of the higher virtues of life, as all men of temperance do: “What difference does it make whether the clothes are mine or his? He is a very dear friend, and that is all that matters. What is there in clothes?” Thus he cajoled himself trying to convince himself of the worthlessness of jealousy. But alas whoever they met had his eyes glued on the friend and his clothes.
The world looks at clothes and not the man. Nobody so much as glanced at Nasruddin, so that in spite of all his sanctimonious talk, he was filled with pain and suffering. At last they reached the first house of call. The door opened and Nasruddin’s friend came out, but his eyes were caught by the richness of the friend’s attire! Nasruddin noted this and began to introduce his friend: “This is my childhood friend, an extremely fine person but as for his clothes, they are mine.” In an unguarded moment, the words fell out and Nasruddin feet great remorse. The friend was astonished at his behaviour and so were the people of the house.
When they came out, the friend reproved him: “Forgive me but I cannot accompany you any further. You have insulted me. Had I known, I should have accompanied you in my own clothes, even though they were dirty — they were mine! Where was the need to point out the clothes?” Nasruddin begged forgiveness: “Forsooth, there was no need. Pray forgive me; it was a slip of the tongue!” he said.
The tongue never slips — remember this always. What goes on within the mind comes invariably on the tongue. That which is suppressed within comes out in an unguarded moment, as steam bursts forth from a closed kettle. The kettle is not at fault. The steam collects within and wishes to get out. Even if the kettle bursts, it has to get out.
“If you say so, I believe you,” said the friend. “But be mindful at the next house.” Nasruddin promised to watch his words. And to prove his sincerity, he even made a gift of the clothes to his friend. “They are yours from now on,” he told him.
They came to the next house. Here also, the man of the house and his wife could not help staring at the friend and his attire. Again it came to Nasruddin: “How foolish of me to give him the clothes right away! I cannot hope to see myself in them.”
And when the time came to introduce the friend Nasruddin began: “Meet my childhood friend, an extremely nice person and as for his clothes, they are his, not mine.”
Again Nasruddin slipped! To say that the clothes were not his, creates a doubt. The friend refused to go any further. Nasruddin begged of him to give him just one more chance, otherwise he would suffer remorse all his life. It was a mistake committed because of the first mistake. He pleaded with his friend, attributing his statement to various reasons; but it was a clear case of suppression.
Now Nasruddin entered the third friend’s house with a vow that he would not mention the clothes. But the clothes, by now, had taken possession of every inch of his being, and like all persons of self-restraint, he put up a brave front outside. Little did the friend suspect what was happening within poor Nasruddin. He looked all right on the outside, but within, he was verging on insanity. Wherever he looked, he saw clothes and nothing but clothes. It filled him with anger and pain but do as he would, he could not subdue this feeling. So he began to repeat his resolve to himself, lest he slipped again: “I must not talk about clothes — I must not talk about clothes!”
And now he was called upon to introduce the guest once again! Poor Nasruddin, with clothes littered all over his consciousness, he began the introduction: “This is my friend. We have known each other for many years and now he comes to visit me after a long absence; and as for his clothes, I have sworn not to mention to whom it belongs.”’
This story brilliantly illustrates the dangers of denial. We are socialised into thinking that certain emotions and sentiments are unacceptable and should not be expressed: anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, shame, sadness. The implicit message we are taught is that the expression of these emotions is a taboo, yet the reality is that we all carry around these experiences within us.
As Rumi writes:
“a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor… The dark thought, the shame, the malice,”
Everyone of us, on any given day, experiences many such moments, thoughts and feelings that we would be none too happy if others were privy to. We contain within us a private world, a world unknown from the outside. As children grow and develop, they realise at a certain point that their parents and other people can’t actually know what they are thinking and so they begin to experiment with this newly discovered power and start to tell lies. We learn this lesson well and throughout the rest of our lives keep hidden many of the more ‘shameful’ aspects of our inner experience from the outside world.
Our culture perpetrates a dangerous myth that ‘destructive’ or ‘negative’ emotions can be dealt with by being denied, suppressed, or simply ignored. However, it is not hatred that is the problem but unacknowledged hatred. It is not resentment or fear that is the problem but the denial that we have these experiences. What we deny in ourselves we project outwards onto the world. The emotional energy is there whether we acknowledge it or not, and it must go somewhere. The anger is there; if I claim it is not in me then I will see it in you and in everyone around me, often leading to destructive effects.
William Blake wrote on this theme:
I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night.
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.
And into my garden stole,
When the night had veild the pole;
In the morning glad I see;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
It is not the emotion or the experience itself that is the issue, but how we relate to it. The emotional life denied is truly the ‘poison tree’ within us. Resentment, jealousy and anger find their way to leak out, and often come out more dramatically the more they are suppressed. A step towards social and psychological health would be to begin to practice greater honesty. We are human beings and so ‘Nothing which is human is alien to me’, as Terence said. We contain within us the sinner and the saint. Accepting that as our starting point might create a real change in the culture in which people can honestly and respectfully communicate with each other about these experiences. When these experiences no longer have to be relegated to dark basements of the mind the energy then can be become freed for positive purposes.