I am writing this looking out over the winding waters of the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, Laos.
As I sip my coconut juice, I allow my mind to become engaged in the array of beautiful sounds emitting from nature’s bounty: the trees subtly whistling in the sunlight, the warm breeze pushing the current downstream, the sound of a small lizard scuttling across fallen leaves, the birds chirping in the shade and the sound of fisherman casting their nets as they wade in the shallows.
This is a truly blessed corner of the world I’ve found today, one where I feel incredibly free of distraction. It takes a trip to a place like this to really be able to let go: to let go of nagging thoughts of bills, things I need to do, things I should have done, people I need to contact, work I know is around the corner.
Today I feel like my mind is defragmenting. I am just letting it all go.
My day started pretty early. I got up to give alms to the monks as they carried out their daily parade through the street.
It was 5am as I stood watching them walking down the dusty roads, blessing each person who’d made it roadside before the waking of the sun. As they gracefully passed by, I was reminded of a story I heard many years ago, a story which ties in nicely with this day of letting go and re-centring my energy in the present.
One day, two monks set out for a temple in a valley beyond the woods. While cutting a pathway through the woods, they came across a choppy stream they needed to cross. There, stood by the bank of the stream, was a beautiful young maiden dressed in silk. She was clearly at a loss as to how to cross without getting muddy and wet.
So, without thinking twice, the elder monk gestured to pick her up. Shocked, she obliged. He put her over his shoulder and waded across to the other side. The younger monk, dismayed and uneasy at what he had witnessed, followed in tow.
Upon reaching the other side of the bank, the elder monk put the maiden down gently. The maiden paid her respects and walked on. The monks then continued on their way to the temple.
As they navigated through the forest, the younger monk, still troubled by what he’d seen, asked, “How could you do that? We aren’t even supposed to make eye contact with women, let alone pick them up and carry them!”
Without a thought, the elder monk turned to the younger monk and said, “Oh, are you still carrying her? I put her down when I reached the other side of the stream”.
And with that, the elder monk turned and continued leading the way through the forest, leaving the younger monk to contemplate his words for the remainder of the journey.
The compassion of the elder monk to put the needs of the maiden before his own spiritual practice, and his mental ability to then let go of the fact that he had strayed from the path of his personal commitment, without feeling guilty or disappointed, is a lesson for us all.
We mustn’t allow yesterday’s actions to affect today’s progress, because letting go of the past is necessary to truly thrive today. We must also accept the transient nature of life; that Mother Nature will demand us to adapt and change as and when she sees fit. This will involve personal sacrifice for the greater good, as it did for the elder monk in this story. To resist this transience will only bring about mental suffering.