Being Present: The Story of Two Monks

The Story of Two Monks

One of my favorite parables that teaches us to be in the present moment is the story of the two monks and the woman.

It goes something like this: two monks, one old and one quite young, are walking down a wooded path, preparing to cross a river, when they come upon a woman crying by the riverside. The older monk approaches the woman and asks her what’s wrong. She tells him that a few days back she crossed this river to visit relatives in a nearby town. But now that she’s returned, and the river has risen due to recent rains, she’s unable to cross again to make her way back home.

Without missing a beat, the old monk scoops the woman up in his arms, wades across the river with her, and gently sets her down on the other side. He then returns to the young monk’s side and together they resume their walk. The young monk is speechless, overwhelmed by the knowledge that, as monks, they have taken a vow to not to touch a woman, and he is in utter confusion at what he’s just witnessed.

They walk in silence for what must have been hours before the young monk can no longer contain himself and he blurts out, “Brother, as monks we have taken a vow of celibacy, and to avoid contact with women, and there you were carrying a woman in your arms. What were you thinking?!” The older monk looks at the young monk with compassion in his eyes and says, “Brother, I set that woman down on the riverbank hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”

This story is a constant reminder of how often we carry around resentments that hold us firmly rooted in the past or in ideas that have long since changed. How often do we continue to remind our partners of their past wrongdoings and hurtful actions, when we know in our hearts that telling them this over and over is incredibly unlikely to inspire them to change?

A Better Response

So, why continue to stay in the past and ruminate on past wrongdoings if it only serves to keep you down, steal your energy, and further alienate you from your partner? The next time you get caught in thought cycles like the young monk did, do something that will keep you moving forward and allow you to use your energy towards effecting positive change in your life.

  1. Practice Mindfulness

    Practicing mindfulness means bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. You can learn modern mindfulness techniques like yoga, breath awareness, and meditation to keep your thoughts centered in the here and now instead of ruminating on past experiences that no longer exist (except in your mind) or contribute to your overall wellbeing.

  2. Seek Good Counsel

    Successful people have one thing in common: they have experienced, trusted advisors and mentors who steer them back on course when they get lost. Maybe the next time you feel overwhelmed by life, in over your head, or beyond your skill level, consider finding someone with a depth of experience in the human condition who will get you moving forward.

Lee Kaufman is a life coach with the Marriage Recovery Center who works with couples and individuals in crisis. He has also been teaching yoga, meditation, and mindfulness techniques for the past 15 years to help people become grounded and centered in themselves so they can they be present and of service to others.  If you’d like to work with Lee, please contact the Marriage Recovery Center at 206.219.0145.