Long ago during springtime . . .
Long ago during springtime there were two monks walking from one mountain monastery to another. They were good monks who had followed all of the rules of their order, including the rule of celibacy. The vow of celibacy was easy to follow in the monastery because there were no women. Out in the real world, however, temptations were plentiful. The monks knew that they had to be on their guard, lest they fall prey to these temptations.
At the bank of the stream stood a rich and beautiful woman . . .
The monks were walking and chatting about the sacred writings of their order. One monk dominated the conversation, the other listened patiently and interjected every once in awhile to keep the conversation going. They crested a small rise, then descended into a valley that led to a fast-running stream. At the bank of the stream stood a rich and beautiful woman adorned in expensive clothing. She needed to cross the roaring stream, but propriety kept her from exposing her legs, and concern about soiling the expensive clothing kept her from wading in with her legs covered.
One of the monks offered to carry her. She accepted his offer. He scooped her up in his arms and waded across the river, making sure to keep her expensive clothing clean and dry, even though his robes were soaked from the waist down. As he set her down she graciously thanked him and they went their separate ways. She took the path downstream to the town. The monks continued their journey on the more difficult path traversing the other side of the valley and heading up the long trail to the mountain monastery still several days away.
For the rest of the day, the monk . . . said nothing.
For the rest of the day, the monk who had not offered to carry the woman, a man normally talkative and jolly, said nothing. That night they built a fire and cooked a simple meal. They ate in silence. Since silence is a virtue, the practice of it was not unusual for their order. The quieter monk who had carried the beautiful woman paid no notice to the lack of chatter.
As they watched the fire burn down and got ready to sleep, the monk who had not carried the woman felt a discomfort seething like a boiling pot of rice. He finally broke his silence and said, “I can’t believe you! You, a good monk who has taken a vow of celibacy, defiled yourself by touching a beautiful woman!” The other monk replied. “I set her down at the bank of the stream. You appear to still be carrying her.”
When we write, we have the privilege of carrying beautiful words . . .
When we write, we have the privilege of carrying beautiful words safely across the roaring stream of consciousness. Once we have finished our task, we have to set them aside and go on with other tasks. Once we write a rough draft, we have to set it down and look at it with different eyes. We can’t look at our drafts with the adoring eyes of a creative writer. We have to look at any draft with the unfeeling eyes of the editor.
The problem is that we tend to own every word we write on the page. We carry our words with us long after the courtesy of carrying them has past. It’s fine to take some pride in turning our efforts into good work, but to own those words so much that we cannot change them is a problem. We do better to think of ourselves as insignificant passersby who only carry beautiful messages across the stream.
That’s our job. We write. Once it is completed we find ourselves on the other side of the writing proces. Set the draft down. Let it go. That mesage no longer affects us. If we can let it go, then we can go back later to review the message without any emotional baggage. We can revise and edit as if the rough draft was written by someone else. If we don’t own it, we don’t obsess about it. We see it for what it is–just words on a page.
Everyone of us breaks a rule or two . . . or ten. So what?
When you think about it that way, you can let go of guilt for making ungodly mistakes as you write. Everyone of us breaks a rule or two . . . or ten. So what? It doesn’t make you any worse unless you believe it does. Choose which monk you want to be: the one who carries out a task and sets it down when finished, or the one who agonizes about it long after the job is done.
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