Let go of the banana

Quite some time ago I read an article about a South American rain forest tribe. Without going into great detail about the article, one of the tribe’s hunting strategies caught my attention. The tribe had learned how to capture monkeys by hanging a wicker type of basket with a banana placed inside. There were slits in the weave so that the banana was visible. There was an opening in the weave, a hole, large enough for the monkey to be able to reach in and grab the banana, but not large enough for the monkey to get its hand out while still grasping the banana. A lot of monkeys were ‘caught’ this way. They simply couldn’t conceive of letting go of the banana.

Now, many of us, in our approach to our lives, are quite convinced that we know what is best for us. This is our banana. Because of this presumption, we map out what we ‘think’ should happen (what we want to happen) in most of our life’s situations. We seldom greet deviations from our expectations cheerfully. In fact, when the unanticipated occurs, we will spend a great deal of time and energy analyzing, worrying and blaming ourselves and others. It always feels like something went wrong. We’ll sit there stewing and reviewing. We won’t let go of the banana. We get stuck.

Our expectations are often a form of tunnel vision, narrowing what we ‘see’ and what we will ‘allow’ to be acceptable to a size so small that reality cannot fit in. In this place, there’s no room for equally valid alternatives…not for you and not for me. Our expectations become, in many respects, demands to be met. (Although we’ll not ever admit this) We can trap ourselves with these demands just as completely as we can hold those around us hostage by them…or be held ourselves captive by their return set of expectations. It is a sad and unsatisfying way to live.

It cries out to be undone.

We all feel better…live better and love more fully….

when we let go of the banana.


If You Were Famous

If you were famous and being interviewed, picture yourself being asked the typical type of questions about your formative years like: So what was it like growing up in your family? or What influenced you as a child to become such and such? (whatever it is that you’re now famous for) or Was there a pivotal moment or experience when you were growing up that changed the direction of your life to what it is now?

Inquiring minds want to know…..

Could you answer these types of questions? Have you given it much thought? Do you think you have to wait until you’re famous before you even bother to look at this kind of stuff or that it only matters if you are famous?

I don’t.

So, as for myself, as much as churches, schools and the sesame street puppets did their darndest to push and pull me in certain directions, my answer as to what shaped me the most would have to be…things that I inadvertently overheard…remarks that I wasn’t intended to hear. You know, the things people say about you when they think that you’re not around to hear…remarks such as:

  • I wish he were more like his brother sometimes.
  • He’s so gullible. At times, I wonder if he’s just plain stupid.
  • He’s a bit of an oddball alright. He’s better left alone.
  • Unless he starts to apply himself, he’s never going to amount to much.

Now, granted, these types of remarks are and were most often heard out of context, but that does not minimize their impact on a developing young self. We have all experienced them in one form or another and, perhaps even, we were the ones making the remarks that were being overheard. But in the young heart, with no real point of reference to deal with such statements, we can carry a wound that shapes an identity for decades. Misheard, misunderstood and misapplied…these were the remarks that shaped me greatly.

So I ask you again to pretend for a moment that you’re being interviewed.

Search for the answers that are true but not necessarily pretty.

Maybe you are, like I was, suffering from the wrong ideas all along.

Funny and true

     There is an abundance of empirical evidence available that points us towards a simple but startling conclusion: How we look at things changes how things look.    

This conclusion startles me because, quite honestly, if I’m looking at something as a problem, I am already convinced that it IS a problem and not just how I’m LOOKING at it. Now, with the conclusion in the first paragraph staring at me, I can no longer be so sure. Now I have to consider that my perspective might just be all of or, at least, a contributing part of the problem itself. Frankly, that sucks. By myself, I only have my perspective. And that perspective only sees a problem.

Even Albert Einstein was reported to have observed (and I do not quote here because I’ve found several versions of the idea): We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

Something has to give. Something different, something new, something unexpected has to be introduced before a solution has reveal itself. It’s rarely a matter of IQ power or brute determination. It’s frequently the opposite…a question reframed or a sequence shifted…a pause, a step back, a waiting patiently for an intuition…an asking another person for their perspective. And the transition from seeing only the problem to opening up to a solution is made possible.

A well known politician was once asked if he was a ‘glass half-full or a glass half-empty’ kind of person, to which he replied, “Depends on how thirsty I am, I suppose.”

Funny and true.

Living in Today

“Carpe Diem”, the Latin phrase popularized (in part) in the movie Dead Poet’s Society, is most often translated as “seize the day”. A more literal translation is “pluck the day” (as one might take a ripe piece of fruit). In more recent years, the idea has been transformed into the anachronism YOLO (You Only Live Once). The sentiment and the wisdom suggested behind this idea is the avoidance of procrastination and of foolishly thinking we have lots of time to get around to certain things.

Of course, there has been no guarantee of a tomorrow since forever.

Collectively, mankind has been complaining about that for just as long.

As often is the case when we are confronted with the larger questions in our lives, most of us stumble out of the gate. We decide that ‘seize the day’ means that we should try to cram as many sensations, pleasures or indulgences as we can afford into every twenty-four hour period. This attitude or approach to the uncertainty of our longevity is unhealthy and unsustainable. It frequently leads to our untimely departure, the very thing we were worried about initially.

I have come to understand that the simple and sincere appreciation of each day, with all of the varied moments it offers from foods, to sounds, to conversations, to exercise, etc., etc., is the fullest measure of ‘seizing’ we ever need to do in order to be happy.We take so much of what each day has to offer for granted. We’re so rushed that we forget, completely overlook, ignore or discount the life we actually have, the people we love and the gifts we’ve had freely bestowed.

I use the word ‘we’ quite deliberately. I am included. No amount of self-awareness will ever allow someone to outgrow their humanity. The purpose of self-awareness is to embrace our humanity more fully and completely.

A guide who isn’t walking the path with you isn’t really much of a guide. He’s more of a pointer.

Finding Myself by Myself

Many of us have the notion that we need to go to a mountaintop (Tibet, anyone?) in order to ‘find’ ourselves. We tell ourselves that if we had no distractions, no demands on our time and energies, no worries about_______(fill in the blank), then we would be able to ‘see’ through all of the conflictual elements in ourselves and straighten ourselves out. Sound familiar?

This notion seems to underlie the fervor and appeal of meditation as it is popularly presented….as the practice of clearing the clutter in our minds so that we can think more clearly. I sense there’s a Zen proverb hidden in that approach. But it alludes me. Perhaps someone reading this can suggest how best to phrase it?

My experience from a long time ago when I first went ‘away’ to ‘find’ myself could be best compared with me anticipating that giving 30 monkeys 30 days in a room filled with reams of paper and typewriters would and could produce something prophetic, profound, poetic and purposeful.

What I got was confetti.

Staring at it won’t change it

At an earlier stage in my life it was pointed out to me that I was fixated on everything that was wrong in the world. The observation was made at a dinner party with friends and wasn’t mean spirited. Since I had never noticed that pattern in myself for myself, I reacted predictably. I denied it.

The comment had struck something inside me though, created a disturbance of sorts, generated a peculiar type of mental nagging that demanded me to do something about it. The truth often works on us like this. The truth doesn’t so much clamor for our attention as much as, once it is pointed out, it just won’t go away.

So I conducted a little experiment on myself. Using lines and slashed to tally just the frequency of my wrong finding thoughts or statements, I kept a count on myself for a whole day. (yeah, I know) I gathered the raw data without censorship, editing or fudging and, when finished, conceded the point. There were 177 instances of me remarking or thinking about something that was wrong….with this or with that or with them….specifically and generally. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It was amazing how adept and dedicated I was to finding faults. Even the positives I saw were quickly qualified by the negative I was sure was coming next.

This realization was an “Aha!” moment of the unpleasant variety. Very unsettling.

You see, I had always considered myself to be a very constructive and positive person. Not that I was particularly happy. (In truth, I couldn’t understand why I was always so agitated) Nevertheless, my whole purpose behind finding the faults, the underlying reason that I gave myself for pointing all this stuff out, was so that the problems could be fixed. Even in myself. Then, perhaps, I would feel better…be happier.

Somehow in my thought processes back then I had confused and convinced myself that ‘seeing’ a problem clearly was the same thing as ‘doing’ something about it.

I stared at the problem(s) and couldn’t understand how they remained unaltered by my intense scrutiny. I was a pain in the ass to many who knew me. I was frustrated and depressed with myself. I hadn’t yet learned that, in life, what you focus your energy on grows.

For sure, recognizing a problem is both initial and necessary.

However, being willing to step into the possible solutions is the only path to relief and joy.