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Thoughts come and go as passing waves - one rises and falls with them - observe this trend and maintain concentration - first stop swimming and allow yourself to relax into the rise and fall - then the analogy is to distance yourself from the results of the process as if diving below the waves - don't be fooled though, one may no longer perceive the undulations but the body of water is still the medium and still moving - this change in perception is achieved through practice and concentration as obviously there is no physical water to swim through / under - it takes time... keep at it.
A successful merchant owned a parrot who he was immensely fond of, almost as much as his three daughters.
His parrot he considered a friend such that he was placed in a gold cage at the centre of the mansion, fed the best food and lavished with kind attention.
One day the merchant was due to travel for business and as usual he asked his daughters what they wished for as gifts on his return. "Gold," replied the first, "Silver," asked the second and "Spices," from the third.
Knowing that his journey would on this occasion take him to his favoured parrot's home land, he also asked his precious friend what he would like by way of a gift.
"All I ask is that you please return to my place of birth, to the large tree where my fellow parrots live and tell them what has become of me, that I am living with you and well."
"Is that it?" asked the merchant, "I am a wealthy man and everything I have is at your disposal. Please don't hold back - I will bring back any treasure you wish for."
"This is most kind of you," replied the parrot, "but all I want is that you visit the tree and tell the parrots my news."
So the merchant went on his way and after he had concluded his business and procured the gifts for his daughters, he set off in search of the tree.
The parrot had provided sound directions and soon, the merchant found the large tree filled with parrots.
"My friends," he announced, "I am here from a land far away with news from your brother. He wishes for me to tell you that he is well and living with me at my extensive mansion. He lives in a large gold cage at the centre of the mansion and he is loved by all who visit. He is fed only the best food and the clearest water and his every little need is met day and night. He wished for me to tell you that he is well."
With that, every parrot in the tree falls to the ground, stone dead.
The merchant is perturbed and hurries home. His daughters are delighted with their gifts but his heart is heavy.
"Did you visit my home land?" asked the parrot.
"I did", the merchant replies.
"Did you find the tree?"
"Did you tell the parrots my news?"
"I did, but it didn't go as expected," said the merchant solemnly.
"How so?" enquired the parrot.
"Well, I told them that you live with me and that you're well and that your every need is met and without warning all the parrots fell to the floor dead. I was quite perturbed."
With that and much to the merchant's shock, his parrot keeled over and fell off his perch, stone dead.
Heartbroken and in dismay, the merchant removed the parrot from the cage and took him outside to bury but before he could even finish digging a hole, the parrot sprang to life and flew away to a nearby tree.
"I'm grateful to you for all your hospitality and kindness my friend but most of all for passing on the message from my brothers on how I may again be free."
With that the parrot flew away, never to be seen again.
The question was how do I answer her when she asks if I am pretending or not?
I chuckle at people's unfunny jokes and they're adults - there's no harm in playing along with kids in a game.
...me deciding to grow my hair...
Instead grow up.
Hair or no hair, don't hold you back from just being yourself.
Let it go.
Still trying to figure out my "roll" on places like new Buddhist, where I never to come off as "hey i'm the monk I know these things you should listen to me" but also want to be available for people who appreciate a monastic around.
Your journey of devotion and resulting insights will no doubt be of interest and use - perhaps also, in this give and take, there shall arise insights that are applicable to your journey.