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Carrying a Woman Across a River

Posted by tinako on June 15, 2009

This week’s Zen Speaks is very useful – I think about it frequently in many contexts.  Two monks approach a woman hesitating at a river’s edge.

One day while the zen monk Tanzan and a young monk were travelling, they happened upon a beautiful young lady in distress.

Tanzan says, “Here let me carry you across.”

On the other side, she thanks them and says goodbye.  The two monks continued on their journey for more than half a day.  The young monk is troubled.

“I thought we monks were supposed to avoid women.  Why did you just do that?”

“Huh?  Oh, you mean that woman way back there?  I put her down long ago.  Are you still carrying her?”

We often carry things much longer than we need to.  Grudges, hurt feelings, embarassing moments, longing for the past, unhelpful traditions.   I once heard someone say that he would imagine an envelope labeled “Waste Of Time” and he would put unhelpful thoughts into it and file them away.

Since this is a food blog, I am going to drag the food connection into this by suggesting that we do not need to eat today what we ate yesterday.  And I’m not talking about leftovers, I’m talking about leftover ideas about what a plate should look like, what we need to eat to be happy and healthy, what it’s OK to do.  Shirley Jackson wrote a story about being stuck in pointless traditions.  It’s called The Lottery (wikipedia includes two audio versions under “Listen To”), and it was published in The New Yorker in 1948.   ”Nothing in the magazine before or since would provoke such a huge outpouring of fury, horror, rage, disgust and intense fascination” (Oppenheimer).  I think about food traditions when I read it.  Traditions that don’t reflect who I am.  Traditions I no longer want to carry.


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