A Lesson From Two Monks
Updated: Oct 6
I won't ever remember where I first heard this story, and I'm certain it is not retold entirely correctly, but here we go:
Two monks walked into a bar and.....I couldn't resist. Just kidding. Get serious, people.
Two monks were walking through the woods, enjoying their daily journey, at peace with nature and at peace with themselves. Naturally, they spoke not a word but welcomed the presence of the other. Suddenly, they heard a woman screaming. She was clearly in distress. They ran towards the sounds and found a young woman in the middle of the stream.
"Help me!" she cried. "I need help."
One of the monks (we'll call him Henry) jumped into action. He took off his outer robe, slipped off his sandals and jumped into the water. He quickly waded out to the woman, picked her up and carried her to the other side. She thanked him and quickly disappeared. Henry swam back across and proceeded to get dressed and take his place by the side of his companion. And then they walked on. They got back to the monastery and went about their usual routine - prayer and lunch, studies and prayer, and eventually dinner. Silence was the expectation. But when dinner was nearly over, the two monks were together again, alone at the table.
"Hey. I need to talk to you about something. It's been bothering me all day."
Henry was stunned. No one speaks in the monastery. This must be important. He looked around nervously. "What is it?"
"I need to talk to you about what happened with that woman this morning. You touched her. You picked her up. That is against all of our rules. I thought what you did was really bad."
Henry carefully and quietly replied, "Well, which is worse? I carried her for just a minute. You, on the other hand, carried her around all day long."
You see, by thinking about something, we carry it with us. And when we carry it with us, it represents a burden, whether we want to admit it or not. Henry knew that. His fellow monk had a few things to learn when it comes to just letting it go.
Every slight does not deserve your attention long after the incident. Every argument does not deserve a replay in your head. Every insult, injury, negative comment, or personal assault does not warrant our continued attention and a precious piece of real estate in our heads. When we learn to let things go, we stay in control. When we let things go, we free ourselves for what is more important - moving forward and moving on. There is literally NOTHING valuable about staying in the past and looking back.
Here is the deal. We do not invite negative incidents. We do not ask for those things to happen to us. We are not to blame for the ways in which others decide to treat us. That is not in our control. But absolutely everything that follows is on us. A car cuts my off, causing me to slam on the breaks. It absolutely ticks me off. Not my fault they drive like an idiot. But from that moment forward, what happens next is up to me. Not just my actions, but my feelings as well. I can speed up and cut them off, in hopes of feeling like I got the last word. I can shout and blow the horn. I can feel enraged. I can believe that this incident is an omen for the way the rest of my day is going to go. I can carry it with me when I get home, and snap at my husband because everyone keeps disrespecting me. I can do - whatever I want to relive and literally carry the weight of that single incident with me.
Or, I can let it go. It really is that simple. There are some things that are absolutely worthy of carrying and addressing. Most things just aren't. And we retain our power, and maybe even our dignity, when we learn to let it go. We are not responsible for what happens to us or how other people decide to treat us from one moment to the next, but we are 100% on the hook for everything that follows - our thoughts, our feelings, our behaviors, or reactions. We can blame others for being terrible communicators, or terrible friends, or even terrible drivers. But we can't also hold them accountable for making us feel a certain way. That is always on us.
Who knew we could learn all of that from a monk?