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holding on and (gra du al ly) letting go

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You may have heard this old Zen story before. It reminds me of how easy it is to keep holding on to memories, especially unpleasant, hurting ones. By replaying past events in my mind, by energizing anger, blame, and loss (say) in my heart, I fuel my own suffering. I also block myself from cultivating compassion and loving kindness towards others. There are choice points all along life’s path: stopping to consider them wisely is easier said than done. Two steps forward and one back, practicing patiently. As the man said, “have faith, have deep faith” (see yesterday’s post).

Way back in time, somewhere in Japan, two monks were travelling from one monastery to another. It had been raining for days and the road was muddy. Coming around a bend, they saw that a creek had flooded the path. Approaching the water’s edge, they met a woman, dressed in a silk kimono and fancy shoes, standing in tears, unable to cross.

“Allow me,” said the old monk without a moment’s hesitation, “I can carry you across.” Receiving her consent, he lifted her in his arms, carried her to the other side, and gently placed her on firm ground.

The men continued their walk and didn’t speak until they reached a hostel late at night. The younger monk could no longer restrain himself and spoke with some agitation. “We monks are supposed to stay away from females,” he said, “It’s dangerous. Why did you break that rule?”

“I left her standing way back at the creek,” replied the elder, “are you still carrying her?”

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5 responses »

  1. My first reaction to this story was resentment at what I saw as gender stereotyping of ‘pretty’, ‘young’, ‘woman’.
    Then, as I read the ending, I saw that as long as I hold on to the notion of gender stereotyping, I will not be free of it.
    Thanks for the lesson …

    😉

    Reply
    • Oh dear (malcolm). how quick the mind is to grasp on to things we like, dislike, prefer, distrust, etc. And how, by noticing this tendency, we realize that we always have a choice. How kind of you to reveal your own double-take. May you day go well.

      Reply
  2. That’s one of the truly great teaching stories that really sticks with me, sometimes poping years later when I need it.

    Reply
    • Years later … so it is/was with me, Chong Go. That story’s been retold so many times that it could easily loose its punch, until –as you say– it pops back into awareness. What am I carrying still? What’s its purpose? Will I take a ‘leap of faith’ and let go?

      Reply
  3. What a wonderful story, and so true of most of us.

    Reply

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