“Two traveling monks reached a town where there was a young woman waiting to step out of her sedan chair. The rains had made deep puddles and she couldn’t step across without spoiling her silken robes. She stood there, looking very cross and impatient. She was scolding her attendants. They had nowehere to place the packages they held for her, so they couldn’t help her across the puccle.
The younger monk noticed the woman, said nothing, and walked by. The older monk quickly picked her up and put her on his back, transported her across the water and put her down on the other side. She didn’t thank the older monk, she just shoved him out of the way and departed.
As they continued on their way, the young monk was brooding and preoccupied. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. That woman back there was very selfish and rude, but you picked her up on your back and carried her! Then she didn’t even thank you!
I set the woman down hours ago, the older monk replied. Why are you still carrying her?”
That fable is from a book called Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth. My younger brother gave it to Leila over two years ago. I’ve always enjoyed reading it to her, but what I failed to see until now was how profound every single aspect of the story is.
I believe that things happen for a reason. The moments that pass without a second thought often come back to us as profound experiences. I carry things for too long. I evaluated my own sense of self based on what I perceive to be other’s opinion of me. When I’m scared I might be losing something, I strangle it, smother it with fear and tears and anger. I yell and cry and accuse when I should be loosening my grip, as we truly can’t possess another person or moment.
Last night I was meeting a friend for dinner, and as I pulled the car door shut behind me and put the key in the ignition, it instantly felt that my blood had turned to ice. Oh no, not now, I thought. But I closed my eyes and told myself that there was no reason to feel this way. Nothing bad was going to happen. I said my prayer that I’ve been repeating many times a day, and the feeling subsided. It had lasted a minute, maybe? And I dealt with it and then it was gone.
I believe, I have to believe, that I won’t always feel this way. That each day won’t be a struggle, that I won’t have to close my eyes and pray for help hourly. Because right now, I am. And it helps, oh it helps so very much. I close my eyes and focus my spirit up high and pray for help and guidance and the ability to focus on the positive things in my life. I pray for my marriage and for patience and to not be left alone.
It diffuses things, it diffuses the fear and the panic and brings me back to the moment that I briefly left. And if I was telling you this in person and you told me you didn’t believe in God or prayer, than I would call this meditation, or a relaxation technique, or maybe I would just call it what works for me.
My dad used to tell me when I was feeling worried or sick that I needed to tell myself, “Everyday, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” And while that isn’t my mantra of choice, it is true. Because this week I was able to diffuse myself without lashing out and I was able to bite my tongue when I wanted to yell or pick a fight and I was able to be more patient with my children.
Yesterday, I snowshoed to a frozen lake. I ran until I started sweating. I sunk into the snow up to my knees and fell over. I laughed out loud while Steve threw snowballs at me. And when I got to the lake, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and prayed again.
And in the sky and in the snow over that frozen lake was peace. I found it and bottled it and poured it inside of me.
Breathing, that’s the key to survival. Breathe.