Two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young and very attractive woman. She was in despair. She had to cross the river, but was afraid to do so. The current was too strong and she was afraid of drowning. Without hesitation, the older monk picked her up onto his shoulders and carried her across the river. Arriving safely on the other bank he sat her down and bowed. She expressed her gratitude and departed. The monks continued their journey in silence.
Unable to hold his silence any longer, the younger monk spoke with reproach “Master, of all people you should have known that our spiritual teaching forbids us contact with women, but you have picked up that one and carried her on your shoulders! How can that be!?”
“Brother,” replied the master, “I set her down on the other side of the river hours ago, but you are still carrying her.”
I first heard this parable of the two monks while in yoga teacher training and it has stayed with me ever since. As I read it again for the first time in ages, a feeling of familiarity washed over me as I realized, oh my gosh I do this all the time. I carry things with me and unknowingly allow the actions of others to affect how I feel.
Recently, I had an unpleasant experience at an early morning business meeting. I met someone that treated me rudely, which made me feel reproached and small. An hour later, I left with hurt feelings and for some reason on that given day, I could not let it go. I was both sad and mad. Sad because I had allowed her actions to make me feel small and mad (at myself) for giving her that much power over me.
After that crappy meeting, I went right to Trader Joe’s hoping to buy my way out of the discomfort. No dice. I sulked through the aisles carrying the feelings from an hour ago. Fast forward the story. I left Trader Joe’s and went out to lunch at one of my favorite restaurants with someone I really love. Yup….you know it, I was still carrying around the darn woman from my meeting several hours before. I picked at my food, got a stomach ache and wasn’t very good company with someone I adore being with. It was true, I gave the mean woman from several hours before my energy, my power and really the rest of my day. I still carried her and our conversation around for the better part of my afternoon. What a waste.
Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace~ Dalai Lama
So, how can we leave these types of situations at the water’s edge (like the monk) and not carry them around? This is still very much a work in progress for me but here are a few things that I have tried and have worked. As I see it, every time we carry those feelings for even one hour less is a success.
Give yourself a specific amount of time to stew, let it out, then let it go. You need time (but not too much time) to be pissed off, to be hurt (or your feelings du jour) and to feel how you feel; then let it go. Literally say to yourself; I’m giving myself the next hour to pout, scream, eat chips and then when the timer goes off, I’m done. Moving on. Because on that day I did not give myself a boundary, I allowed my feelings to spiral, which made them last far too long. Not cool. Your feelings are all valid. Allow them to surface, let them play out for a specified amount of time, then allow them to leave as quickly as they came.
Often when we are doing personal growth work of any kind, we get disappointed in ourselves when we feel like we have backslid. Something like this, “I’ve been meditating every morning for three weeks now, why the heck am I still so aggravated with my kids/spouse”. Or, “I did yoga four times this week, why am I allowing this inane conversation with a stranger derail me”? And then we get mad/disappointed/bummed out with ourselves because we aren’t on track with our new awesome mindful selves that we have been working on so diligently. When we slip into familiar patterns that we would rather change, we have a tendency to get mad at ourselves or disappointed like somehow we have failed. This is absolutely not true.
Taking the time to try and learn new ways of acting/reacting and new ways of being takes patience and practice. Just by recognizing that you have acted in a way that no longer serves you means that you are already growing and doing an awesome job. Beating up on ourselves has never been an effective method for change so why not try a new way? Be patient and kind with yourself instead of beating up on you. Acknowledge your feelings, be kind to yourself as you work through them, then let it go.
When I allow a situation like the other day to fester and grow, it makes me feel like a human marionette. I feel like I am being moved involuntarily and that leaves me feeling powerless. But, we are not powerless. We are the only ones in charge of our feelings and reactions. It is possible to lose sight of that in the moment and that is understandable. Yet, the more we practice and remind ourselves to sever the ties, the easier it will become. One trick I use is to visualize cutting the ties that have attached themselves to my limbs and emotions. I have even been known to flail my actual arms about, pretending to sever and cut the ties holding me back. You may make sword cutting sounds, windmill your arms or shake up your energy in any way that cracks through your funk. It may feel silly, awesome, freeing and can make you laugh, which will be perfect timing to help you feel better.
The next time you feel yourself carrying something around that is wrecking any portion of your day, remember the tale of the two monks. Don’t carry around anything that may rob you of precious hours of your life. Let it out, give yourself a break and sever the ties.
We will never be able to control how others behave, but we will always be in control of how we react to how they behave. Allow yourself to respond in ways that make you feel proud, help you feel positive and empowered.
“In the end, only 3 things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you”. ~Buddha
We can totally do this. I support you friends in every way.
Full monk parable copied from: Spaceforbeautifulmind.blogspot
Monk carrying woman image courtesy of orangejuiceblog.com
Marionette image courtesy of freeimages.com
Baggage image courtesy of wordfromthewell.com