A psychology professor walked around a room while teaching stress management to a class. As he raised a glass of water, everyone expected he’d ask if the glass were “half empty or half full”. But instead he inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?” The students called out a number of answers.
He then replied, “The weight doesn’t matter because it depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for 20 minutes, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for an hour or even a day, my arm will feel numb, paralyzed and shaky. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer it’s held, the heavier it becomes.”
He then continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Worry about them for a while and nothing happens. Worry about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you worry about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing much of anything.” In short, remember to put the glass down.
There’s another story told by an old Zen master who told of two monks who were walking near a river. At one point they came upon a woman who looked upset for somehow she had become separated from her child who was on the other side of the river.
The older monk went up to her and asked if he could help and she said that she needed to get across the river but could not swim. Much to the concern of the younger monk the older monk said, “climb on my back and I’ll take you across”. And so she did and all three waded across. They bid their farewell but much later down the road the younger monk was so upset that he couldn’t be quiet any longer and had to say something to the older monk. “You carried that woman across the river! He shrieked. You know we are not supposed to have anything to do with women!”
The older monk smiled and replied, “Why are you still upset? You are still carrying her, I left her at the water’s edge some time ago!”
When we hold on to things they tend to burden us and make our journey through life heavier and more burdensome.
There’s also the story of the businessman who goes to a guru so as to find inner peace and the answers to life. When he gets there he sits before the master and tells him to give him the answers to life. The master pours him some tea but soon the tea overflows the cup and on to the table. The businessman gets all excited and cries out, “You are overflowing the cup, no more tea can go in!”
“Precisely, said the master. The cup is like your mind, it is overflowing with its own ideas and there’s no more room to hear what I have to teach! Empty your mind and then we shall talk.”
We can’t really hear anything new if our minds are full of old thoughts and ideas. Whether it’s ideas, beliefs, or suffering holding on to them makes it hard to move on. Here’s a quote from Shunryu Suzuki that hits me close to home:
“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ”
As I’ve said before one of the best ways of letting go of the past and the suffering for what you would have wanted reality to be is to forgive it for what it was. To forgive our hurts and those who hurt us takes great courage, but it also relieves us of great burdens.
Unless of course you insist on holding on to your hurts because at least they’re familiar, or they offer you the chance to not be responsible for what you’ve become. Blaming the past for what you are or are not keeps you from moving on, or at the least makes it damn hard– harder than it needs to be.
Forgiveness is the greatest gift that you can give yourself. It can empty and heal your mind of past insults, self or other-inflicted. Don’t make it so hard!