Lately I’ve been carrying a lot. The world is in a mess. So much bad and scary stuff is happening. My clients are crying; they enter my office, hearts ravaged by life and love. I feel it all, even when I’m supposed to be off. Even though my personal world is filled with privilege and goodness.
A Zen story comes to my mind. It offers an important lesson in detachment.
Two monks are travelling together. They come upon a river with a strong current. As they prepare to cross, they see a beautiful young woman staring at the raging river. Frightened, she asks for their assistance crossing. The more experienced monk carries her across the river on his shoulders and sets her down on the other side. The monks continue their journey.
As time goes by, the senior monk notices that his friend is quiet and seems upset. “What is bothering you, friend?” he asked.
The junior monk replies, “As monks we are not permitted to touch women. How could you have carried that woman across the river?”
The senior monk replies. “Brother, I set her down hours ago—why are you still carrying her?”
I love this story! Among other things, it teaches that our over attachment to fixed ideas or past wounds can prevent us from experiencing and responding to the present moment. This can weigh us down, trigger us, sap our energy and create undo reactivity.
But when the pain is in the present, when suffering is on-going, when things are just not right in the world, I’m called from within to carry some of the weight. Yes, I do enjoy the privilege of swiping the screen and moving on with my day. But often, my heart does not allow it. It is my duty to do something—and my something (or one of them) is to feel. My something is to feel with those who suffer the unbearable heaviness of violence, oppression, displacement and loss. To feel with those in search of a home, hauling their kids on their back.
In the aftermath of Paris and Beirut, with the ongoing suffering in Syria, in a terrifying world infused with fear mongering, Islamophobia, racism and rampant xenophobia of every ilk, I’m with the junior monk—I’m carrying the pain.
We may not know how to fix it, but we can choose to feel it.