When some people find out I’m a voracious reader, they often ask about some of my favorite books. I’ve read way too many different and wonderful books in my lifetime to narrow it down to just a few. However, if they were to ask me what my favorite folk stories are, I can tell them there are a few that stuck with me, shaped me, and continue to influence me.
One of these folk stories is about two Buddhist monks. The monks were walking from one monastery to another, many miles away. They came upon a river, freshly swollen with rain, and running swift. There, standing on a large rock in the middle of the river, was a woman who made it there, but was terrified to continue. While the river was not deep, the current was much stronger and faster than she’d anticipated. She begged the monks for help. One of the monks immediately jumped in, came to the woman, and carrying her, made it to the shore. The woman thanked him profusely, the monk crossed back, and the monks continued on their way. They walked several more miles. When the darkness fell and they could no longer safely walk, they made camp. The monks gathered wood, and started a little fire and roasted a few potatoes they brought with them to eat. Before they settled to sleep, one monk turned to his fellow monk, the one who had rescued the woman, and said, “I can’t hold my tongue any more. You know it is forbidden for us to touch women, yet you carried that woman in your arms.” His fellow monk smiled. He then replied, “True. But I only carried her across half the river. You’ve been carrying her for the past five miles.”
When I get too worried about anything, I ask myself the following questions, “Have I been carrying that poor woman for miles? Is it helping anything for me to keep carrying her? Is there anything I can actually DO about my worries, or is this just taking up space in my mind, and messing with my life? And if there isn’t any benefit here, how can I set the woman down gently and be on my way?”
I worry about a great many things, most of which I can do very little about — the state of the world as it is, the state of my country, the health of my parents and my children. And I worry about things I can directly influence and change — my own health, my own battles with my own demons: depression and obesity. Of course, there is a difference between worry and thought, although for me the line is so thin as to be nearly transparent, emphasis on nearly. I think about the weather. I worry about driving in the snow.
But mostly, worrying is useless. It does nothing. It doesn’t help me sleep — it prevents me from sleeping. It helps me overeat from time to time, and the consequences are not good. I have always taught my kids that there may not be a clear right or wrong with every situation, but there are ALWAYS consequences to actions. Perhaps I should take my own guidance more seriously.
I get that it’s much easier to worry than it is to actually do anything about it. It’s like those meetings where a lot is said, but little is done. So, when I recall the story about the monks, it does help me put a great many things into perspective.
Now, if only I were wise enough to follow my own guidance ALL the time!
To learn about my second favorite folk story, come back in two days.