Grudges and Mistakes
These puppets are from a story about Forgiveness in a land where people carry two bags with them all the time -- one for Grudges and one for Mistakes -- and how they learn to lay them down....it's called "Strong enough to let it go". We premiered it last month at our Playing with the Guidelines event at Kadampa Center, based on The 16 Guidelines for Life. See more at www.16guidelines.org and the new calendar at stores.lulu.com/florasabi.
Here's an early draft of a book based on the story that will be available soon I hope:
Ruminwel is a very old village where tradition is really important. People have a lot of respect for what has gone before. In this place things are going pretty well. This time of year there are fields full of grain, orchards full of apples, willow trees full of yellow leaves swaying in the clean autumn breeze, and wells full of clean water. All the basic things the people need.
Smoke curls up from a blacksmith shop, the scent of sweet bread rises from the bakery, sounds of children playing are everywhere, babies are growing into children growing into young people -- some getting married, some not getting married, some starting families, finding their professions, some working, and old people -- those lucky enough to be able to be old people before they die -- a whole range of life fills the village. Nothing really unusual except for one thing and this is the thing that a peddler noticed one day when she was coming into town...
She wheeled her cart into the marketplace. She had things hanging from her cart to sell yet she was quiet when she first came in. The villagers didn't notice her because they were arguing and complaining so loudly. What she noticed was each person there was wearing something she hadn't seen before: they all carried two tear-shaped bags. The babies had two tiny bags they wore on a cord around their necks. Older children had more things in their bags which hung from their waists. The adults each had two bags like back packs with more stuff in them. All the people moved kind of slowly because they were carrying all this weight.
The peddler listened in to see what all the yelling was about. One group was complaining about the mistakes they'd made, "Oh, if only I hadn't built my house so far from the orchard," one person was saying, and another added "Oh, I never do anything right! I built the walls crooked! I want to be perfect and I keep making mistakes." Another group was talking about grudges, "Oh she is so mean to me! It makes me angry with everyone!" or "He has ALWAYS been slow to pay his bill! He NEVER thinks of others" Generally there were these two kinds of complaints about either themselves or about what other people had done.
In one corner of the marketplace the peddler saw two children playing. One named Rina told the other one, "Jona, that's just stupid, you're an idiot!" which was of course a hurtful thing to say. Jona took a little something and put into one of the bags at her waist. The peddler looked closer and could see the bag said YOU in very small embroidered letters Y O U. Rina kept saying insults and Jona kept adding to the YOU bag until finally Jona started to cry and ran away. Rina sat down and began to look sad herself and then put something into the bag she carried called ME.
Then a little further on the peddler saw the blacksmith working away in his shop but he was grumbling "Oh I let the fires go cold and now it's not hot enough to bend the horseshoes and I'm not going to have them ready in time, how could I be so stupid?!" and he took something and put it into his bag labeled ME, a big bag on his back. The person came who was looking for the horseshoes and he yelled at the blacksmith, "how could you have done this, how could you have not planned well so the horseshoes were ready for me in time?" and the angry man put something in his bag labeled YOU. And the blacksmith looking angry as well also put something in his own bag labeled YOU.
Nearby the peddler saw a mother and a little daughter, and the daughter said, "Mommy, why do we have to carry these two bags all the time? I have to carry them to school, I have to carry them when I'm playing and when I'm at home... and I see you and daddy lay them down on the bed and then lay down and try to go to sleep on those and I know you don't sleep well on those. Why do we have to have these bags? and the mom said, "This is an important tradition here. Everyone in the village has these bags. It's how we know we are part of the village. It's what we have always done. And how would we know,
how would we keep track of these things, of who we are, if we didn't have these bags. Where would we put our mistakes and our grudges without the ME and YOU bags?"
The little girl looked down at the careful stitching on her own small bags, almost empty except for a few things she had inherited from her parents. She looked up and around and everywhere she saw everyone from the youngest to the oldest had ME and YOU, ME and YOU, ME and YOU, dividing up all these things that happened to them.
That's when the peddler heard a group of young people complaining about the bags themselves, "Oh, it's awful!" they complained , "It's just too much for me to bear all this! These bags are so heavy, I really hate this! The mistakes are so heavy I'm afraid to try anything new! It's terrible I can't sleep, can't work, I can't even play because these bags distract me so, ...but I'm afraid to let them go."
The peddler observed all this and she looked around and she thought what could be done? Everyone looked so sleepy. They had been thinking about their mistakes all night and probably woke up sleepy and made more mistakes the next day. She thought, "What can I do for them?"
Then she made a plan....she had noticed all the wells and the orchards and the fields surrounding the village so she had an idea. She started to shout, wheeling her cart and ringing her bell saying "Elixir for the well for sale, magic potion for the well!" As she called, the people looked up from their troubles and noticed her for the first time. What they noticed first about her was she wasn't carrying any bags, not on her back, not on her waist on her belt, not on a cord around her neck! They thought, "What's going on here? What happened to her bags? Did she lose them? How does she know who she is? How does she keep track of what's going on if she doesn't keep her mistakes and grudges?" Yet, she walked up tall and moved so freely, almost gliding along. So they decided to find out what this magic elixir was about. They said, "What is this magic elixir for the well that you're talking about?" and she started to answer, "well I have..." but a child interrupted, "Why don't you have any bags?" and all stood silently waiting for an answer.
"Well, I used to have some, but then I went to this magic well and there I looked down into the well and there I saw the face of this powerful person who told me how I could let go of my bags and travel light, unburdened, to walk more freely. First I had to perform a feat of strength. I had to be strong enough to let them go."
"Who was this powerful person you saw?" they asked. She said, "I'm not allowed to tell. It will be different for each person anyway. You will have to look yourself, " she said.
"Where is this well?" they demanded. "Can you sell us a map?"
"Oh, there is no need to go that far because I have brought some of the waters from this well. If I put it into your deepest well here then you can use that well. You can look down into the waters and see the face of this powerful person that will tell you what you need to do to let go of your bags, your guilt, your mistakes, and your grudges. But...."
"But what? It costs a fortune, right? Is it going to cost a lot of money?" they wanted to know. She said, "No, it's not going to cost a lot of money. This was shared with me and I'm going to share it with you. All I need is some food for tonight and a place to stay. And we'll go at sunset and I'll put this elixir into the well. In the morning, you can come one by one perhaps at noon when the sun is high, if you are ready. Not everyone will be ready to let go of your bags, but if you're ready, you can pull up the bucket (it will be really hard to pull it up after I put the elixir in there) pull the bucket all the way up to the top and if you are strong enough then you can look in there and the face will tell you what to do to let go of your bags, so you can come one by one tomorrow when it's done "
So it was agreed. They gave her some dinner and then just as the sun was setting they took her to the deepest well, a round stone well outside of town. On one side of the well was a very old apple tree that had let go of its blossoms which now covered the ground. In their places tiny apples grew on the branches, silhouetted against the setting sun. On the other side grew a graceful, flexible willow with leaves nearly touching the ground. The peddler took out a small bottle and poured in the elixir. "Now we wait 'til tomorrow and be patient" she said and the people went home to try to get some sleep on their lumpy beds with their mistakes and their grudges.
Overnight all the people had time to think, "What would it be like? What would it be like if I could lay down all my mistakes so I wouldn't worry about those anymore and just look forward? Of course I would still try not to make those same mistakes but I wouldn't have to keep feeling badly about the past." Or "What would it be like if I laid down my grudges? I'm not really sure that person was trying to be mean to me, maybe they just made a mistake...because I'm not perfect either, I know because I've got this whole mistake bag I've been carrying around for years!"
The peddler woke early, but it was almost noon when the villagers got up because no one rested well on all of that stuff. By noon the sky was bright when the first person, the blacksmith, came to the well. He was strong and he thought surely I'll be able to pull the bucket all the way up to the top. "Are you ready, blacksmith?" the peddler asked. The blacksmith was ready. He felt he was ready to let go of the burdens he had carried for so long. He pulled up the bucket slowly, slowly. He said, "I am sick of carrying these bags. I'm tired of these worries and remembering all the things I did wrong, I want to just move on". When the bucket was finally at the top he carefully looked inside and there in the clear water he had his answer. He saw the face of the person who would give him permission to let go of his bags. He got a little smile on his face because knew this face, he knew this person.
He set the bucket on the edge of the well and carried his bags a short distance from the well to just beneath the willow tree that bent it's branches down almost as if to receive them. He tried laying down first one bag, the one with the mistakes, then the other one where he put his grudges and it felt good . He could stand a little taller and he walked back to the village almost gliding. It took a little while before he could straighten up completely. With a smile he walked slowly, purposefully, silently back to town.
A few others came early, including Rina and Jona. When they came to the well they each said, "Oh, yes I am ready to let go of these mistakes. I'm ready to let go of these grudges." They worked hard at the ropes, they were so strong, and when the bucket at last came up they each saw a different, clear, familiar reflection. And each one realized this is how I can let go of my guilt, my mistakes, my grudges. More people came and it wasn't long before a great mound of bags grew beneath the willow.
After each person left the peddler would put the bucket back down into the well and as each new person came she would ask then if they were ready to let go of their bags. And they said they were. They were really tired. They were also a little afraid because they weren't sure if they would be able tell who they were, if they would be safe if they let go of their bags. But they were ready to try. And some had seen the blacksmith come back smiling. The people that came back didn't say anything for a long time. Occasionally they would go over to someone to maybe apologize for a mistake they made but mostly they just had a little smile on their faces.
Not everyone came though, some people were too afraid. The mother of the young girl didn't come. Some were used to holding those bags, they were comfortable holding those bags, and they were not ready to let them go. So not everyone came but some came. And when they got to the well they would do the same as the blacksmith: they would pull up the heavy load, they had to be strong, and when they saw the face in there they knew what to do. They would walk over to the big willow tree and sit down and leave their bags and the pile of bags grew to a mountain.
Some children who were watching the peddler do all this began to gather stones to cover this big mountain of bags full of mistakes and grudges. "How did you know?" they asked the peddler. She said, "I came from another village, and in my village we didn't carry those bags all the time so I knew you didn't need to. You just needed to be strong enough to let them go....and she pulled up the pail one last time and took the stones out of the bottom where she had placed them, adding them to the pile of stones the children had started beneath the willow tree. She rolled her cart past the apple tree and on toward the next town.
The children went back to the village and along with those who had let go of their bags found that their muscles straightened out, and that night they slept, the best sleep of their lives as if there was no moon and no sound at all outside the shutters until the dawn of the next day.
by Denise Flora
all rights reserved.