Randall Eiger LCSW
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Carrying the Lady
© 2008


Two Zen monks were walking along a river when they came upon a beautiful young woman. The bridge was out, she tearfully explained, and she needed to cross the river right away. "Don't worry," said one of the monks," just climb on my back and I'll carry you across."

The girl climbed on the monk's back and he took her across. The monks then continued on their journey, but the second monk was very upset. Finally he couldn't stand it anymore and said, "How could you, a virtuous monk, allow an attractive young lady to ride upon your back?"

The first monk said, "Are you still carrying that lady? I put her down when we crossed the river."


It seems to be a natural tendency of the human mind to cling to old habits long after they have served their purpose.

I had a patient who came from a family where the parents were tremendously self-absorbed. As a child, he learned that the only way to get people to listen to him was to scream and throw tantrums. This probably got him the parental attention he needed. The trouble was, he was using the same strategy as an adult — and the results were not so good.

The trouble with clinging to our old defensive strategies is that they keep us from fully engaging with the fresh new experiences that are coming to us moment after moment. The vitality of life comes from being fully present in this moment, not in responding to the moment with a knee-jerk reaction from our past. The more automatic our behavior, the less we are living fully, and the more we resemble those Pavlovian dogs who were trained to salivate at the sound of a bell.

When our minds function normally, they have a way of letting experience drift into the past. For example, tomorrow you will clearly remember reading this article. A week from now, you may still remember it, but it will be kind of hazy. Thirty years from now you probably won't remember it at all. This is the natural cleansing process of the mind. It allows old experience to fade away to make way for fresher, newer experiences of life.

But when we are hurt or made to suffer, this natural cleansing process can be interrupted. We may keep replaying the traumatic incident over and over in our minds without being able to let it go.

Or we may keep it alive by nursing a grudge or becoming overly suspicious or feeling an unjustified sense of entitlement, as if the world owed us something to "make up for" what happened to us.

Or we may distort our behavior or our character in an attempt to keep ourselves one hundred percent safe, and make sure we will never be hurt like that again, and in so doing miss out on the adventure and fun of life.

One of the wonderful things about being human is that we need not be slaves to habit, conditioning and old ways of coping with situations that no longer exist. We can claim for ourselves a wide territory of autonomy and freedom in our lives. Our ability to do so depends on our ability to reflect upon our lives and see where we are sticking to old worn-out ways of doing things and tired ideas that don't have any validity in our current situation.

Therapy can be an excellent way to begin this process of reflection. It is sometimes painful, sometimes fun, always challenging. At its best, it allows us to shed the useless baggage of the past, and to open ourselves to the possibilities of the fresh new life we are leading today.