Food for Thought

Food For Thought

2.6.2011 – Carrying Grudges?

During a particularly rainy season, a Buddhist monk and his apprentice from the monastery on the hill are walking back after conducting business at a nearby town. As they begin to cross a river with rapidly rising waters, they see a beautiful young woman in a delicate silk dress who is obviously terrified of the angry water. On the other side is her younger sister, crying and gesturing to her.

The older monk asks the woman if she needs help. When she answers yes, he swings her into his arms and navigates the crossing to safety, placing her gently on the other side with her sister. With a nod, the two brothers resume their journey in silence.

For the next several hours the apprentice finds himself repeatedly revisiting the scene of his teacher talking to a woman and then picking her up to carry her across the river. Finally, the hours of thinking about the event are just too much and he blurts out, “Master, how could you do that? We’re not supposed to talk to others or to touch a woman!”

The wise monk nodded at his apprentice. “Ah. I helped the woman across a raging river, and then set her down on the other side. You, my friend, have carried her with you all this way.”

The younger man looked surprised, so his teacher continued. “When you hold onto something, bear a grudge against others, or carry anger long after an event is over, you hold yourself back from true enlightenment. Let go, my brother. You don’t need to condone what happened but you can accept it and move on. Lighten your load and set yourself free!”

2.6.2011 – Pounding In and Pulling Out Nails

When Will was 7, his father abandoned his mom. By the time he was 9, he was an angry boy, and often would lash out at others with hurtful words. He once told his mom, “I see why Dad left you!”

Unable to cope with his outbursts of cruelty, she sent Will to spend the summer with his grandparents. His grandfather’s strategy to help Will learn self-control was to make him go into the garage and pound a two-inch-long nail into a four-by-four board every time he said a mean and nasty thing. For a small boy, this was a major task, but he couldn’t return until the nail was all the way in. After about ten trips to the garage, Will began to be more cautious about his words. Eventually, he even apologized for all the bad things he’d said.

That’s when his grandmother came in. She made him bring in the board filled with nails and told him to pull them all out. This was even harder than pounding them in, but after a huge struggle, he did it.

His grandmother hugged him and said, “I appreciate your apology and, of course, I forgive you because I love you, but I want you to know an apology is like pulling out one of those nails. Look at the board. The holes are still there. The board will never be the same. I know your dad put a hole in you, but please don’t put holes in other people; you are better than that.”

Now, we’ve all pounded our share of nails in, and we’ve pulled our share of nails out. And we’ve all been on the receiving end of the hammer, too. Some of our nails are still embedded, too. I wonder if it’s time to stop and consider nails we’ve experienced and nails we’ve given.
Is it time, now, to pull a nail back out?

And for the nails studding our own bodies, is it possible to pull out someone else’s nail and let go? I think so, actually. Just maybe, though, you’ll look at one of those nails and find that your body simply absorbed it, healed around it, and yet continued to grow strong and sturdy. The human spirit is amazing. We know that some apologies will never come. But if it’s within our power to pull out that nail, perhaps it’s time.

1.19.2011 – The Star Thrower

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

The Starfish Story is adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977). Eiseley was a anthropologist who wrote extensively. He was the ‘wise man’ in the story.

1.5.2011 – Learning About Being Poor

One day, the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country just to show him how poor people live. They spent a couple of nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.

When they returned home, the father asked, “Tell me, what did you learn from our trip?”

The son answered: “I saw that we have the one dog and they had the four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end … We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night … Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon … We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight … We have servants who serve us, but they serve others … We buy our food, but they grow theirs … We have walls around our property to protect us; they have friends to protect them.”

The father was speechless. Then his son added, “Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are.”

Ah, perspective.

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