Tell me your stories, please.

What is your favorite story? I have several favorites that are helpful in times of distress. I am telling you these stories from memory. Of course, my own interpretation and cultural context probably play a part in how I remember these, but stories we tell ourselves are always more powerful when seen through our own eyes and experienced in our own emotional context. These are all Buddhist stories, as far as I know.


If I’m angry I like this story:

A man was out in his small boat one Sunday, enjoying the quiet, though foggy day and having some me time. He was so relaxed and satisfied – until . . .Oh no! A boat was coming towards him.

He yelled, “You’re coming right towards me! Move!” But the boat kept moving directly towards his boat.  

“Stop! Steer clear!” But the boat got closer and closer, and, finally, CRASH! The man held on for dear life – his boat was almost capsized, but remained on the water.

The man was furious; incensed; angry; and purple with rage! “How dare you crash into me,” he said, “You could have killed me!”

There was no response. The man took a moment and looked into the boat that had crashed into his. There was no one in the boat! The boat had broken away from the dock and drifted into him. The man laughed and laughed! His anger was gone.

Next time you’re angry, remember, there’s no one in the boat.


The following story helps for any kind of distress. It may be considered to be sexist, but considering the time context, this doesn’t bother me. The message is powerful.

Two monks were walking through the forest. These were monks who were living in a time when male monks were celibate. They had strict rules about any touching contact with women. The monks walked silently through the forest. They came to a stream where they saw a woman in distress. She was knee deep in the water but the water was churning too fast for her to wade across. One of the monks lifted her up and carried her to the other side of the stream. She went her way and the monks continued on their way.

The monk who witnessed the other monk carrying the woman was incensed. All day he kept thinking, “How could he do that? Doesn’t he know about our rules?” As the day went by, he became more and more angry. Finally, he could contain himself no longer: “How could you break our vows? What came over you?”

The monk who had carried the woman said, “I carried the woman for 5 minutes; you’ve been carrying her all day.”


If I’m fearful, I like this story:

A woman was walking in a mountainous area. Suddenly, she heard the roar of a tiger. Clearly the tiger was about to kill her. She ran and ran until she came to a cliff. She leapt from the cliff and held on to a vine to keep from falling down all at once.

As she looked down she saw a tiger at the bottom of the cliff. She tightly gripped the vine and then noticed a mouse nibbling on that very vine!

Tiger above and tiger below.

The woman looked around her and suddenly saw a wild strawberry. She picked it and popped it into her mouth. “Mmmmmmmmm, strawberry!” she thought.


I have a request. Do you have a favorite story? If so, I would love if you would share it with me. I’d like to compile these to celebrate my 70th birthday, which is in December. I’d like to start now so that I have time to put these all together to share with others – possibly to publish in book form. I’m happy to share with attribution, or, if you are shy and don’t want your name made public, I’ll respect that request. So, please, tell me your favorite stories! I can’t wait to see them!

Self / No Self

Below is my first Toastmaster speech. The assignment was called “The Ice-Breaker” and the task was to introduce myself to the group.

Hello everyone. Today I’ve been asked to introduce myself. Sounds easy, yes? But I ask:

Is there an abiding self who can be introduced?

Am I the nice Jewish girl from Chicago, never questioning the many rules of an orthodox religious practice?

Am I the radical anti-war activist attending six meetings a day, building People’s Park in Berkeley, demanding Third World Studies, and marching in the streets?

Am I the feminist working for women’s rights when the mainstream media and even public television found the movement to be amusing, even laughable?

Am I the artist, disillusioned with political activism, trying to create a new reality through art?

Am I the wife and mother, shaping a more evolved next generation?

Am I a research writer and graphic designer, contributing to public health? And learning to mediate at the university to help people to better communicate with one another?

Am I the humanist rabbi trying to foster interfaith dialogue with the goal of increasing understanding between people of all beliefs and trying to help alleviate suffering?

Am I the doting grandmother (bubbe in Yiddish) whose heart aches with love for her three grandchildren?

To be honest with you, I am torn between two ways of looking at this idea of the self. The first way is one that is inspired by Dogen Zenji, the founder of Soto Zen. He said (this is a very loose rendition):

“To study the Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.”

But then, there is the Chassidic tale about Rabbi Zusya:

Rabbi Zusya, a wise and pious man was near the end of his life and he was weeping. His students gathered around and asked him, “Rabbi Zusya, why are you crying? You have led an exemplary life.” Rabbi Zusya answered them. “When I die and go to heaven, the angels will not ask me, “Why were you not Moses, leading the people out of Egypt?” They will not ask me, “Why were you not Solomon, offering wisdom to the people?” They will ask me, “Zusya, why were you not Zusya?”

No Self / Authentic Self

So, who am I – this person standing here before you all? Is there an abiding self who can be introduced? Would we want there to be such a self? If so, is there a thread that holds these selves together into one self?

Some people say that we are the stories we tell.

In that case, I am the forgotten self, the authentic self, the nice Jewish girl, activist, feminist, artist, researcher, designer, mediator, mother, rabbi, bubbe, toastmaster attendee, and I’m very happy to meet you.