Two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed.
As the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke out.
"Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!"
"Brother," the second monk replied,
"I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her."
(story from http://goto.bilkent.edu.tr/gunes/ZEN/zenstories1.htm)
As is asked in the retelling of this story for children in the brilliant Zen Shorts by Jon Muth, “have you carried it long enough?” You can always put it down when you notice it is too heavy. This applies to everything: worries, troubles, guilt, trains of thought, the past, the future, the last breath you took. The more you let go, the more you can live truly free in the present moment.
People often wonder about what Buddhism says about rebirth; does it advocate belief in reincarnation? This is too abstract a question to be of importance in the present moment. What is certain is that we will all die one day; this inevitability makes practice urgent. In fact, because of the fluid nature of reality, we are constantly dying miniature deaths. The person you were a moment ago is gone, replaced by the person you are now. This process is happening constantly.
To some, this may seem depressing or negative. Buddhism - or the secular practice of mindfulness - shows how this fact is actually quite freeing and energizing. With every death, you experience a rebirth. Every moment becomes an opportunity to start now on the journey to be the best “you” you can be. The lighter you travel, the more capacity you have to pick up (and drop off) beautiful packages: acts of kindness, moments of awareness, a chance to listen deeply to a wise person or a loved one. Every moment that you travel light and let go, you have another chance to notice the transitory beauty that you might have missed had you been distracted by a heavy load.
As is often the case, work on the cushion mirrors the human condition in everyday life. As you train yourself to travel lightly on the cushion, the habits you form - the neural nets you build - start to be accessible in life. I encourage you to travel lightly, both on the cushion and in everyday life.