Carrying The Past

September 12, 2015 | Monastic Musings

Reflections from some of the nuns

Learning to live in the present moment, learning to live in the now is an aspect of spiritual discipline and a goal of spiritual practice that is common to all the major spiritual traditions across our globe.  There is a wonderful story which speaks of this and I have read it in different forms in Christian, Zen and in Buddhist teachings.  A story that is found in all these traditions must have something to tell us that is basic and important to our spiritual life.

One aspect of living in the present moment is the ability to let go of the past, where it hinders us from being fully present now.

Brothers John and James were walking along a country road that had become extremely mucky after heavy rains. Near a village, they came upon a young woman who was trying to cross the road, but the mud was so deep it would have ruined the silk dress she was wearing.

Brother John at once picked her up and carried her to the other side.

The monks walked on in silence. Five hours later as they were approaching the monastery, Brother James couldn’t restrain himself any longer… ‘Why did you carry that girl across the road?’ he asked. ‘We monks are not supposed to do things like that!’

‘I put the girl down hours ago,’ said Brother John. ‘are you still carrying her?’

These stories, like the Gospel parables may speak in many and different ways. They may speak not only to different people, but to the same person differently at different times. Perhaps this is one reason why they can be contemplated again and again – harvesting new and different fruits, never quite the same and never boring. They are perennial teaching stories and it is the heart open and attuned to the murmur of the Spirit that is able to recognise the lesson for this moment in time.

Today, as I sit with this story again, it encourages me to identify those judgements which live in my mind and are well, active and very alive.

‘We monks are not supposed to do things like that!’  Well, that may well be true of whatever it is that my mind is judging as inappropriate, but that however does not seem to be the point!  Is it happening now, this moment?  What is the judgemental memory, fantasy or tape that is blocking me from seeing, hearing or enjoying this moment of this day.

The invitation is to practice walking more freely and easily the journey which this day offers, fresh and free from yesterdays’ judgements and resentments.


Sr Magdalen Mather osb