No, this is not about the Idina Menzel song from “Frozen.”
It is about one of my favorite stories which goes like this:
There were two monks who followed a strict vow of chastity that forbade them even the slightest touch of a woman. These two monks were walking through the woods one day and were about to cross a narrow river when they heard someone calling them by the riverbank. They turned and saw a young, attractive woman sitting in the mud.
“Please, kind sirs, I have stumbled and turned my ankle. I cannot walk and go back to my village across the river. Can you help me?”
The first monk was about to convey his regrets due to their strict vow when, much to his astonishment, the second monk promptly lifted and carried the woman in his arms and began crossing the river. The first monk had no choice but to stumble along.
They reached the woman’s village where the second monk entrusted the woman to the care of local physician. The two monks then resumed their trek through the forest in silence.
After two hours, they had returned to the temple where they lived. The first monk then turned to the second monk and said, “Brother, I am sorry but I have to confront you. I am so shocked and disturbed at your actions. Without hesitation, you broke our most sacred vow by touching that woman. How could you do that? And how could you act now as if nothing has happened? You should be beating your chest with your fists. You should be kneeling on the ground in guilt and shame. Yet I see no sign of remorse or contrition from you. I am afraid I have no choice but to report you to the Abbot.”
The Abbot happened to be standing not far away, and hearing the commotion, came to see what was the matter. The first monk then proceeded to repeat the story, complete with the wavering of his voice and the wringing of his hands.
When he was done, the Abbot turned to the second monk and said, “You have done well. You are dismissed.”
Then he turned to the first monk, who could not believe what he had just heard, and said, “Brother, your brother left that woman in the village two hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”
It is a beautiful story because it encapsulates the values of intelligence, wisdom, compassion and letting go. Many people, myself included, are inclined to be like the first monk. We like to cling to our sob stories. We like to play the blame game. We like others to be as miserable as we are. Next time you have a conversation with your friends, try to be aware of the stories you share. Are they stories of being hurt, victimized, or abandoned? Are you carrying a woman on your back as well?
I once had a sudden visitor who popped in and began talking about how he despised and loathed the woman he was living with, the mother of his child. He was there for hours and as we weaved through different topics, he would inevitably keep circling back to the woman and his hatred of her. I could see it as a giant weight on his back that threatened to flatten him if he didn’t learn to get rid of it.
People who share victim stories are sometimes unaware that they are doing so because they derive an emotional benefit from it: sympathy and attention. The Abbot showed enough wisdom not to be drawn into the first monk’s victim story and mentally slapped him out of that mode of thinking.
The second monk understood that the rigidity of vows and rules need at times give way to simple kindness. His is the true art of living in the present and letting go of past mistakes. What good does it do to keep beating yourself up for the past? It is like driving while looking at the rearview mirror all the time instead of the road ahead.
Learn to let go.
(And for Idina Menzel fans who are disappointed that this article isn’t about her: Don’t let the cold bother you.)
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.