I Quit

There once was a monastery that was very strict. Following a vow of silence, no one was allowed to speak at all. But there was one exception to this rule. Every ten years, the monks were permitted to speak just two words.

After spending his first ten years at the monastery, one monk went to the head monk. “It has been ten years,” said the head monk. “What are the two words you would like to speak?”

“Bed… hard…” said the monk.

“I see,” replied the head monk.

Ten years later, the monk returned to the head monk’s office. “It has been ten more years,” said the head monk. “What are the two words you would like to speak?”

“Food… stinks…” said the monk.

“I see,” replied the head monk.

Yet another ten years passed and the monk once again met with the head monk who asked, “What are your two words now, after these ten years?”

“I… quit!” said the monk.

“Well, I can see why,” replied the head monk. “All you ever do is complain.”


I love this zen story.  The monk could only speak two words every ten years and those two words were complaints.  He spent his time thinking thoughts that kept him stuck in that cycle of angst without movement or transcendence.  Thirty years dwelling on what was wrong without taking the turn to see what is…where the road opens up and eventually becomes road-less. It also took him thirty years and six words to finally say, “I quit!”  He stayed stuck, following the rules, until he decided to make a change.

How often do we do this?  How often do we stay stuck in complaints, almost delighting in our chance to point out what’s wrong with everything?  How often do we stay stuck for years before making a change, deciding on a choice that was always there?

I have said before that it took me twenty years to write, “Inside the River.” I complained about my lack of discipline, time, inspiration, talent.  I quit, deleted, ignored, complained. The monk realized after thirty years that he could make a choice to quit rather than complain and rather than transcend into the spiritual realm that his silence could offer. I, too, decided another way.  Each draft, restart, and new choice veered away from the complaining.  Each misstep, rewrite, and finishing touch was a step forward.  Each time I acted upon instead of complaining about was a spiritual awakening.  If I only had two words every ten years for those twenty years (regarding my book), my words would be similar to the complaining monk.

My first two words now would be, “Thank you.”

What would your two words be?


My favorite Meditation

Imagine yourself resting beside the river.  You lay atop a blanket, your body relaxed. The sun dapples through the trees, a gentle breeze cools your skin.  You embody this moment and feel present, awake.  Your breath expands and contracts, fills up and releases.  Your mind is anchored to your breath, like the rhythm to its sound.

You look out to the river and notice the calmness of the water, and the way the sun reflects off its stillness.  You see your happiness in the water.  Your breath still calm, your mind still buoyed by the breath.

In a blink, the flow of the river changes, like some wind had formed underneath its surface.  Ripples and small currents reveal itself and you hear the lap of water against rock.  You see your anxiety in the water, as your breath doesn’t change, as your mind doesn’t dive in.

The flow of the river picks up, the ripples turn into rapids, lashing out at the unmoving rocks on the shore.  You see your anger in the water.  Yet your body is relaxed, your breath still long and deep.

And so the meditation continues, as each emotion shows itself in the water, and as your body rests beside it.  You don’t jump into the happiness or the anger.  You’re beside it, observing the emotions without standing up and diving in and drowning in its current.

For me, that is the un-clinging, the detachment as taught in yoga.  When I imagine myself beside the river of my emotions, there is space.  I don’t dive into the river and react, flailing my body around without any sense of control.  There is no stopping the winds, the currents, the stillness and calm, but you can choose to lay still beside it, one breath at a time.

For Ana and Emma, I dove into the river to get their stories and emotions.  I am almost finished with “Inside the River,” and then I will rest beside their water and detach myself from the emotions that will display itself in the flow.

I would love to hear about your favorite meditation, mantra, or affirmation that helps you stay close to your best self.