Zen Talk: A Buddhist Story about Learning to Let Things Go

Two Buddhist monks were walking along a path when they came to a shallow, muddy river. A woman in a beautiful dress waited there, not wishing to cross for fear of ruining her beautiful dress. One of the monks lifted her onto his shoulders – something that he was absolutely not supposed to do – and carried her to the other side, where he set her down (dress intact) and proceeded along the path with his fellow monk. After a few hours, the second monk, unable to continue keeping quiet about what he understood as a violation of the code by which they lived, asked his companion, “Why did you pick that woman up and carry her across the river?” The first monk replied, “Are you still carrying her? I put her down hours ago.”

I love this story. It illustrates an absolutely wonderful life lesson that we should all take to heart. This is about letting things go: breathing in deeply and exhaling, letting out the negative thoughts, feelings and emotions and not thinking about them anymore.

I’m not going to drone on about the power of positive thinking or the importance of a Buddhist technique known as mindfulness or the psychological practice known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I am going to state simply that our thoughts, whether positive or negative, greatly affect the way we feel and think, and when we dwell on the negative and that which makes us upset or tense or angry, we are only harming ourselves.

When a moment has passed, it is in the past and that is where it should stay. Sometimes wrongs must be righted (when you insult someone, that’s in the past but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apologize for it later), but for the most part, dwelling on things that can’t be changed only clouds our minds and thoughts, preventing us from living in and enjoying the present and moving forward to a better future.

Let it go. Move on.

This story is a wonderful illustration of this important life lesson and I think about it all the time whenever I find myself dwelling on the unchangeable.

What sorts of things do you dwell on unnecessarily? What do you think of this story? Do you have a technique for learning to let things go?

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