The Monk and the Woman

You may have heard the Zen story of the woman on the monk’s back. Here is a quick reminder:

A senior monk and a junior monk were walking together to a distant destination. At one point along their journey they came to a river with a strong current.

The monks saw a young and beautiful woman trying to cross the river, but she was scared of being swept away by the current. The woman asked the monks if they could help her across to the other side.

The two monks glanced at each other — they had taken vows not to touch a woman. Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and went back to continue his journey.

The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. He was speechless.

After his companion’s return they walked for an hour, and no word was spoken between them. Two more hours passed, then another three, finally the young monk couldn’t contain himself any longer, and blurted out:

As monks, we are not permitted to touch a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your back?The older monk looked at him and replied,Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river 6 hours ago, why are you still carrying her?

We know what happened to the woman on the older monk’s back, but what happened to the woman on the young monk’s back?

I don’t know what happened next in the story, but I know that we are all sometimes like the young monk. We all carry a ‘strange woman’ on our backs every now and again, and can’t put her down for hours, days or even years.

The ‘strange woman on the back’ is our own unresolved personal stuff. Sometimes we are not even aware of it. But it weighs us down nevertheless, and the weight takes its toll on our health, our relationships, our happiness, our whole life.

I find this unacceptable, therefore I developed a secret strategy for handling ‘the women on my back’ aka my unresolved issues. I can highly recommend this strategy. It works like a charm every time.

This is an excerpt from an article with the same title, first published on

This article is also available in German on