What Are You Holding On To?
Presented at Unitarian Universalist Church, Pittsfield MA

Long ago there were 2 monks walking to their monastery through a dense jungle. The monks carried with them a few supplies to help the other disciples continue their quest for spiritual truths and enlightenment. They eventually came to a large river flowing rapidly due to recent rains. They took their time to carefully cross this raging river and eventually made it to the other side.

When they got to there they saw there was a woman who had her hands full and was looking at the river she was hoping to cross. One of the monks set down his things and asked her if she needed help. Eventually he put her up on his shoulders and crossed back to the other side of the river with her. After getting her safely there he once more, carefully crossed back over to join his fellow monk and continue their journey back to the monastery.

As they continued their journey he noticed the other monk was quiet and seemed angry. As they reached the monastery the frustrated monk asked the one who’d helped the woman,
“Why did you help that lady? You know that as monks we are not supposed to touch woman or place them on our shoulders!”

The other monk responded, “I dropped her off on the other side of the river. Why are you still carrying her?””
So, here in this almost new year what are
you hanging on to that needs to be let go?
An old belief?
A fear? Maybe a resentment?….How about a regret? One that you keep digging up, AND THEN regretting IT
all over again?

(that’s also true with resentments- like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die…yet most of us will do this over and over again).

Or maybe it’s an old story you keep telling yourself?

A few weeks ago I had coffee with a friend.

As we talked he brought up a job he had almost 40 years ago. He’s spoken of this job
many times with me, how poorly he was treated by the owner as well as some of his colleagues, how under appreciated and underpaid he was-yet he stayed there for years.

From there he went to the numerous losses he’s suffered. He is the last one left in his family and unfortunately this is often the reality the longer someone lives.

Whenever we speak he always manages to bring both of these things up somewhere in the course of our conversation. I like this person a great deal.
And I truly feel bad for them because they just
don't seem able to “let go” of these old stories.

I suspect that they have become
so identified with these losses and disappointments that…. to let them go…. feels like they be letting go of “who” they are….it’s become their identity…and it can be Very tough to give that up!

The stories we tell ourselves can have a great deal of power in this way.

I know another person that, whenever life is good and things are going their way, they’ll say, “it’s about time” but almost immediately they’ll say, “it won’t last” and rather than feeling grateful for what’s currently going well in their life, instead they’re waiting for the “other shoe” to drop ( their words)- they’re anxious because they’re so sure something bad is coming. And of course they’re right, because “bad stuff” or hard things do happen too-AND it’s not personal, just life being life. But not for this person- because when it shows up it just confirms the story they’ve been telling themself since they were a kid- and to them it is personal- “bad luck” because their family has always struggled and had it that way- the family curse is how they put it.

Another friend of mine said that to live this way is like having gone out for dinner 2 weeks ago at a bad restaurant - had an awful meal and, now, even if you’re in a top grade restaurant with a fabulous dinner in front of you, you’re so busy complaining about that awful meal 2 weeks ago that you hardly notice the feast in front of you!

In my own life there was a time where I told myself a story.
Many years ago the band I was playing in had just finished our first set at a big club. The last song happened to have an extended guitar solo and my wife, who was the bass player, complimented me for that solo. I made a dismissive comment- something like, “it wasn’t all that good”. Well she took issue with this and asked me why I said that.
I’d noticed there was a guy standing near the back of the room, his arms folded in front of his chest and watching me intently. So I said to her, “Didn’t you see that guy at the back of the room watching us? He thought I sucked.” So Jane asks me why I thought that and I said, “his arms were folded- he was judging me” She then asked me how did I know what he was thinking?? Of course I didn’t. Then she asked me, “How do you know he wasn’t loving every note you were playing?” Truth is that thought had never occurred to me! A light went on for me that night. I realized that I had been doing this kind of thing for a long time. Why? Because of a story I’d told myself many years earlier.
That night everything shifted for me.
I will tell you this, when I first discovered music and first started playing I was a drummer and then a bass player and it was totally joyful for me …
but as I switched over to guitar and had more success some of that joy began to fade. After this night and that realization the joy returned and it’s been with me ever since.

So here’s one of the things I’ve learned that has helped a great deal:
Don’t believe everything you think!
As Mark Twain said:
It’s not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble- it’s what you’re so certain
you do know that just ain’t necessarily so!

I believe everybody struggles with something. We’re all “works in progress”. In my own life some of my greatest struggles have been self-imposed- and in seeing this I was able to change it

What are you still carrying that no longer serves you?
What story is ready for revision…. or even deletion?
In the end this is
always your choice.

Viktor Frankl spoke of this in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”- he learned this when he was a prisoner in Auschwitz and it helped him survive. He wrote, “
Everything can be taken from a person (man) but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way. When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

And that my friends is
real power And it is yours…if you choose to use it.
Thank you for listening.