Just Let Go

On the way to church one morning a friend shared the following story that was told to him by a Buddhist Monk. It originates from perhaps Malaysia or perhaps from some other parallel that is populated with monkeys. There the indigenous people employ an extraordinary method of capturing these creatures.

They take a coconut and carve a hole of a certain size into it. Through this hole they insert a few nuts; they then suspend the coconut on a rope, which is firmly attached to a cross member. When a monkey catches the scent of the nuts he reaches through the hole and wraps his fist around the nuts. While the hole is large enough for his slender hand to enter, it is not large enough for his clenched fist to be withdrawn. However, he will never open his fist to give up the nuts – never. He is thus doomed to be captured and eaten simply for not opening his fist and letting go, thereby escaping to enjoy his freedom.

By the time this article goes to press, I shall be on the doorstep of the New Testament. I will have perhaps even crossed over that threshold, with the end of my writing being nearly within my grasp.

So what’s my point?

My point is that I had expected to be much further along if not actually finished by now. This has become the source of a great anxiety. As we drove through the lush countryside with the implications of the monkey story still foaming inside my head, I thought, WAIT! Does anyone care about a deadline besides me? It doesn’t seem likely. I am supported on all sides simply for my efforts, and sometimes even with applause. Why, therefore, am I creating unwarranted stress for failing to achieve a self-imposed deadline? And it doesn’t stop there.

The myriad of my other unnecessary stresses are written upon a ribbon that extends well into infinity. It certainly is not in the best interest of my physical and emotional health. It would be more useful for me to remember that I’m on a strict schedule of chemotherapy, a three-tiered level of HIV cocktails, and a galaxy of other sleep-inducing medications and treatments that conspire to often keep me in bed long after the snooze alarm has given up its fight to roust me. At least the clock knows when to relent.

Ultimately, I have much to learn from the foolish nature of the monkey. I can easily see that having my anxieties clenched in a death grip will make me a captive to my own devices. Yet I continue to struggle against my own foolish nature – holding to an ingrained notion that the anxiety is somehow a motivator. Could that be true?

Suddenly I envision one of those monkeys having traded his freedom in the trees for a few nuts that he will never get to enjoy. He will all too quickly be slaughtered and thrown onto a heap of other dead monkeys. In the end as I find myself mired up to the knees in my own foibles, I have to ask myself. Am I smarter than a monkey? Well…it’s probably time for me to find out: don’t you think?

As published in the May 2012 issue of "St. Peter's Press," the monthly newsletter of St. Peter's Presbyterian Church in Spencertown, New York. At the time of publication, Phillip was nearly finished with the Apocrypha.