Holding on to the Past

Woman on mountaintop looking out over clouds at sunrise
Woman on mountaintop looking out over clouds at sunrise

A Zen story describes the perspective of two monks regarding holding on to the past. One day an older monk and a younger monk were traveling together. They came upon a raging river that had to be crossed. At the river, they met a woman who asked the monks for help in crossing. The religious practice of these monks prohibited them from touching women. However, in this desperate situation and without hesitation, the older monk decided to carry the woman on his back and cross the river so all three could safely get to the other side.

When they reached the other side of the river, the woman thanked the monk for his kindness and went her way. Both monks continued on their journey in silence. The baffled younger monk tried his best not to ask why the older monk deviated from their practice. He could no longer contain himself and finally asked why such an act was permitted. The older monk, full of wisdom, gently responded and said, “I put her down a long time ago. Why are you still carrying her?”

Are there life experiences that have caused you to carry past hurts, fears, regrets and resentments? Some have said, “Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been different.” Life is too short and the inability to forgive stops the flow of positive energy and creates barriers between people. Forgiveness may not release the person from the consequences of their wrongdoing, but it will free your spirit from bitterness and prevent the person from occupying a negative space in your life. Believe it or not, it takes more energy to be upset with someone than it does to be at peace with them.

Carrying bitterness and grudges increases anxiety, depression, blood pressure and affects the healing rates of patients with cardiovascular disease (Mayo Clinic, 2017 & WebMD, n.d.). As we live in this moment, I urge you to let go of hurts, anger, regrets and resentments. Life is like a GPS: If you have a goal or destination you are aspiring toward and you get lost, listen and look out for the opportunities to reroute, let go of the experience or mistake that may have been yours or done by another and get back on your path to a better life and a better goal.

Like the older monk, crossing a river may also include stepping outside of our comfort zone to temporary help another in need. Our personal rivers may be difficult, but we could be someone’s lifeline as we pause to help them overcome life’s currents. In a different space and time, we may be the woman in need. Like both monks and the woman, let us not be intimidated by the problem but do what it takes to possibly resolve the issue. It will be difficult and some may not understand what is happening. Like the woman, we may need to ask for the help that could save our life. Be quick to release your burden after crossing your river and like the goal of the GPS, keep walking towards your various destinations.

Take time to release your pain privately and reach out to a licensed therapist, trusted friend, family member or a member of your faith-based community for support. If you are reading these words, I am rooting for you, praying for you and know you have what it takes to cross the rivers in your life.

By Ama Larsen, Faculty Member, Online Bachelor of Social Work Program, Spring Arbor University