FOCUS: What Are You Carrying?

Disciplines: Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Systems Thinking

A well-to-do woman with several servants reached a river and needed to cross, but her servants were carrying her many packages and she didn't want them to put the belongings down. Quite self-absorbed, she was verbally abusive and demanding. Finally, two monks came by and one picked her up and carried her across the river, while she continued to berate him and the servants. He put her down on the opposite bank and he and the other monk continued on. After they had walked some time in silence, the second monk blurted out, "I cannot understand it. That woman was rude, arrogant and abusive, and yet you carried her across the river while she cursed at you." The other monk said, "Yes, but I put her down on the river bank hours ago -- why are you still carrying her?" -Zen Story


I’ve heard this rich story, with slight variation, many times. I asked a number of people what it meant to them. Here’s what they said:

  • This story helps me leave a lot of things on the river bank – a very energizing thing to do.
  • Don’t carry around your aggravations!
  • It’s okay to make a decision to do something for someone even if you don’t like them very much – it is YOUR behavior you are responsible for, not theirs.
  • A person who carries negative judgments about others pays a high price.

I once saw a video called, simply, “Baggage.” In it there was no talking, just a lovely woman who walked through life, and gradually carried more and more baggage. She started out with a knapsack on her back, and when that got full, she added a Santa-sized bag. Pretty soon she was dragging an unbelievable amount of baggage, and it was literally hard for her to move. The message was vivid.

The beginning of a new year seems like a perfect time to ask ourselves what we’re carrying and what we can leave on the river bank. And the good news is that it can be easier than you think.

The most freeing experience of my life was forgiving someone who had hurt me deeply. One day in a blinding flash, I realized how heavy my anger was and how unhappy it kept me. I imagined myself without the anger and the pain. I literally felt light. It was exhilarating! I forgave him on the spot. I was free. The experience was not intellectual – it was about feeling and weight. It happened quickly as I imagined the freedom I would feel when I put my burden down.


  • What are you carrying?
    • Old grudges or resentments?
    • Outdated, useless stories?
    • Negative self assessments?
    • Anger?
    • Envy?
    • Too much stuff?
  • How would it feel to stop carrying it?
  • What would it take to leave your baggage on the river bank?


Please join me for a 45-minute telegathering to explore leaving things on the riverbank in more depth. Call Wednesday, January 23, 2008, at noon Eastern (11:00 a.m. Central, 10:00 a.m. MT, 9:00 a.m. Pacific) 1-641-678-3404 x968. No need to register…just call at that time!

Read an excerpt from Liberating Greatness, the Whole Brain Guide to an Extraordinary Life, the book Hal and I wrote, at

Sharon Eakes | 720 Maple Lane | Sewickley, PA 15143

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