Once upon a time, there lived an angry man. He had been married for two decades yet he habitually fought with his wife. He used to have uncontrollable fits of rage. When angry, he would say and do things he would regret later on. He would get worked up over trivial matters. He hated himself for this and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t break this habit.
One day he approached his guru and said: “I’m sick and tired of being angry all the time. Tiny matters set me off and the fiend in me comes out without any warning. Why am I eternally angry and upset?”
“Because you are hurt,” the guru said.
“But, I’ve a caring family and I do love my wife. She doesn’t hurt me back when I’m upset. So, I don’t think I’m hurt.”
“You are still experiencing the pain of old wounds. These are the after effects of what you may have experienced in your childhood or during your youth.”
“Have I not been healed all these years?”
“Not only you’ve not healed yet, but the hurt and the pain has made you weak too. As a result, regardless of how pleasant or unpleasant the situation may be, any undesirable thought or emotion triggers the anger in you. A fit of rage is a sign of being hurt and weak.”
“But, I don’t remember any major incidents, only small ones. How can such experiences of the distant past still leave me weak, hurt and angry?”
The guru handed him his water pot and instructed him to keep his arm stretched while holding it.
“Is it heavy?” he asked.
A minute passed and he asked the same question.
“It feels a little heavier now,” the disciple said.
“Stay put till I say otherwise.”
“My arm’s aching and I can’t hold it any longer,” he said after five minutes.
The guru took the water pot from him and said, “You see, it’s not how much the water pot weighed but how long you carried it. The longer you hold it, the heavier it feels. Gradually, you feel weaker and weaker before you find it unbearable.”
While the gravity of the incident matters, what matters lot more is how long we’ve been carrying it around. I frequently meet people who are in their fifties, sixties or even seventies, who have been married for decades, yet they complain about incidents that occurred thirty years ago as if they happened just thirty minutes ago, just now. They range from something as small as not being served the right meal at their wedding to being lied about something more serious.
Every day, every moment of our lives unfolds a new experience. It’s impossible to have only pleasant ones because often what we experience is dependent on how we are feeling internally than the absoluteness of the external condition itself. It’s impossible to only have agreeable conversations with our loved ones. It’s a given that there are going to be times when the other person will make mistakes or when you’ll do so, when they won’t understand you or when you won’t understand them. It doesn’t mean that the relationship is not workable or that there is no compatibility. Sometimes, it simply means that you’ve been carrying the water pot for a little too long.
At that time, it is for your own good that you try and let go before tiny pebbles of petty matters become giant mountains of negativity and neglect. If we keep holding on, it keeps getting heavier, and, once the burden is beyond bear, it makes us weak and vulnerable. In that state of hurt and susceptibility, it takes less than a trifle to snap. Just like a mere pin prick bursts a balloon.
I’m not saying that you put up with abusive behavior. I’m suggesting that, no matter how small or big the incident, if you still hold the other person responsible for what happened years ago, you are doing great injustice to the both of you. It’s unnecessary. It’s past, it’s gone. It’s weighing on you; you can’t possibly hope to feel light or happy. What’s more, we can’t even remain sane if we don’t let go. Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”
The world around us will continue to move. We can’t erase the past, we can’t really change others unless they deeply desire it themselves, we can’t go into the future, we can’t forget anything by choice, but we can let go, we can empty ourselves. Let me share with you a beautiful Buddhist hymn.
Let me a pure white lotus be
Unfolding in Samsara’s stream,
Let all the gloom of misery
Be gathered in my lotus dream;
Let each dew drop that studded lie
On each white radiant fold,
Reflect the mercy of the law
That turns death’s bliss to gold.
Let every wave that tumbles down,
Their curled slim of wrath, repair
To lotus roots of dusky brown,
In my compassion’s bounty share;
Let every sparks of vengeance rowed
Round lotus stalks entwine.
And greed and lies transformed by love
In lotus heart enshrine.
When each life drop has sped away
Across my pure white lily door
When I have drained all sorrow may
I speed to deck that lustless floor.
Let every petal softly fold,
In summer’s golden shine
Retreat to claim the splendid prize
Nirvana’s joy last Mine!
Retain only what you really care about because the stuff we keep is what shapes us. What we hold onto is what creates us, it makes us who we are. What are you made of?