What are you carrying?

RiverjpgOne of my favorite zen stories goes something like this:

Two monks were journeying together by foot when they found a raging river crossing their path.  At the bank of the river stood a woman, also seeking to cross.  Her eyes were filled with tears, fearful of crossing the river safely.  Without hesitation the elder monk took the young woman into his arms, carrying her gently across the river, and setting her down on the opposite bank.  She thanked him and they parted ways, the monks setting forward in their journey.  There was silence between the monks for miles.  Finally, hours later, the young monk stopped and addressed his companion, “I simply can’t understand – we have taken a vow never to touch a woman, yet you took that woman into your arms, carrying her without the least reservation!”  The elder monk smiled lovingly, saying, “My friend, I left that woman miles back at the bank of the river.  Why are you still carrying her?”

This story had a profound effect on me. I have long found myself carried away in raging currents of thought – analyzing and over thinking all that has past and all that is yet to be.  I became quite adept and scrutinizing every aspect of myself from dress and behavior, to decisions made and those yet to be made.  While gentle analysis certainly has a place in responsible decision making, it remains true that just about anything can be justified or rationalized by the mind.  In our minds we hold an amazing amount of intellectual data and experiential lessons, cross referenced by the morals and ethics of our religion, family, friends, ego, community, and world.  These teachings help us to categorize “right” and “wrong,” however, they also present us with competing judgments; how does one make a decision when their faith, family, and selves have differing opinions of truth?

The elder monk in this story followed his heart, showing compassion to the woman as he aids and supports her across the river.  In being true to himself this monk is able to release the action upon placing her safely on the other bank of the river.  His young companion, however, finds himself caught in the web of judgment and struggle as he seeks to conceptualize the decision of his elder.

In the Yoga Sutras we are taught that while the mind is easily convinced and complex by nature, we, in our hearts, are true and peaceful.  The Sutras teach, “The true you is always the same, but you appear to be distorted or mixed up with the mind.”  In some actions we are able to be the elder, seeking guidance from our inner  selves.  Honoring our true self creates space for us to be at peace with our decisions in the midst of external interests.  Other times we behave like the younger monk, drowning in a current of competing rationalizations.

One of the most valuable lessons that yoga and meditation have taught me is to learn to quiet my mind and find the peace in myself.  To release from the ever present struggle that carries my mind out of the present and into emotion and attachments, anxiety and judgement.

In yoga, students are often asked to “let go of that which no longer serves you.”   So I ask, dear reader:

What are you still carrying?