In the book, Radical Acceptance
, there is a Chinese Zen tale of an old woman who supported a monk for twenty years, letting him live in a hut on her land. After all this time she figured the monk, now a man in the prime of life, must have attained some degree of enlightenment. So she decided to test him.
Rather than taking his daily meal to him herself, she asked a beautiful young girl to deliver it. She instructed the girl to embrace the monk warmly—and then to report back to her how he responded. When the girl returned, she said that the monk had simply stood stock-still, as if frozen. The old woman then headed for the monk’s hut. What was it like, she asked him, when he felt the girl’s warm body against his? With some bitterness he answered, “Like a withering tree on a rock in winter, utterly without warmth.” Furious, the old woman threw him out and burned down his hut, exclaiming, “How could I have wasted all these years on such a fraud.”
To some the monk’s response might seem virtuous. After all, he resisted temptation, he even seemed to have pulled desire out by the roots. Still the old woman considered him a fraud. Is his way of experiencing the young girl—“like a withering tree on a rock in winter”—the point of spiritual practice? Instead of appreciating the girl’s youth and loveliness, instead of noting the arising of a natural sexual response and its passing away without acting on it, the monk shut down. This is not enlightenment.
This short tail illuminates that spiritual purity and elimination of desire are not the same thing. Sometimes we inflict cruel and unusual punishment on ourselves by depriving ourselves of food, rest, or another person’s comfort. We might so badly want to destroy the part of our self that is wrecking our life that we recklessly injure our body or mind. As I’ve said before
, in order to improve our ourselves, we first must come from a place of self-acceptance. You must ask yourself whether you are creating a hardship on yourself that comes from a place of self-loathing, or a challenge that comes from a place of love.
🍺 to another great week ahead