It’s amazing how many things we say as jokes, are taken seriously and cause stress to the person on the receiving end. Life would certainly be very boring if it didn’t include humor, in fact, everything in the universe is a paradox, but we need to be careful that something said innocently doesn’t get out of hand.

I remember a story of something that happened to a friend of mine some years ago. This friend was also a meditation teacher and the technique we were teaching at the time involved an initiation ceremony. The participants were asked to bring several things including a white handkerchief for use as offerings in the ceremony, which was then given back to them at the end.

On one occasion, a young man came to learn to meditate but, instead of a handkerchief, he brought a white sheet. Thinking there had been a miscommunication but not wishing to embarrass him, my friend carried on as though nothing was unusual and returned the sheet to him before he left.

The course required the man to return the next two evenings for group follow-up meetings but not to bring anything. When he came on the first night, my friend noticed that the man was carrying his sheet but again decided not to say anything. On the second evening, when the man returned still with his sheet my friend couldn’t contain her curiosity. At the end of the meeting she took the man aside explaining that perhaps there had been a misunderstanding, that she had only asked him to bring a handkerchief and only to the first meeting. The man looked a little embarrassed and said he thought his friends had played a good trick on him.

Apparently, a couple of his friends had already learned this meditation so before he came for his instruction, he asked them what the handkerchief was used for. “Oh”, said his friends, “You have to take all your clothes off and use the handkerchief to cover yourself with”. “Wow”, thought the man, I’d better take something bigger than a handkerchief. When he wasn’t asked to strip at the first meeting, he thought maybe it was going to happen the next day or the final day and so made sure he had his sheet handy.

This is an amusing story and didn’t create any lasting harm but it does illustrate how easily a simple mistruth can easily be taken very literally.