Have you ever heard the story of the monkey that just won’t let go of the bananas?
There are different versions, but the idea is the same. Here is one version:
“In the South Sea island of Borneo, the natives catch monkeys in a very unusual way. Since most of the monkeys are sold to zoos, the hunters avoid using ordinary traps which can cause disfiguring injuries. Instead, they hollow out a football-sized coconut and leave a hole in one end just big enough for a monkey to slip in its hand. The natives put green bananas inside the coconut which is the monkey’s favorite food. Next they chain the coconut to the roots of a nearby tree. The natives scatter more green bananas around the jungle clearing. Then they return to their villages.
When a troop of monkeys comes swinging through the rain forest, the sharpest-eyed among them will usually see the green bananas in the clearing. They’ll swoop down and eat all the bananas. When all of the freebies are gone, almost inevitably, one of them will pick up the baited coconut, put his hand through the hole in one end, and clutch the bananas inside with his fist. However, when he tries to pull out the delicious fruit, he quickly discovers that the hole in the coconut is too small for him to withdraw his banana-filled hand. All the monkey has to do to escape is open his fist and let go of the bananas. Then he can easily pull out his hand.
Alas, the greedy monkey almost never does the logical thing. He tries to carry off the coconut, but of course, it’s chained securely to a tree. He struggles, he screams, he rages, he foams, he tugs and pulls at the coconut until his wrist is raw and bleeding, and he himself is exhausted. When the natives come back the next morning to check their trap, they find a battered, broken-spirited monkey who’s been caught by his own fist.”
I am not sure if this story is even true, but it doesn’t need to be to learn from it and apply it to our own lives.
At the gist of this story is attachment. The monkey was attached to the green bananas. All he had to do was let go of the bananas and he could go free, but he was not willing to let go of them and was therefore trapped.
What are we not willing to let go of? What are we holding on to tightly that isn’t serving us? What ideas, programs, practices, hopes, dreams, and expectations are jeopardizing our safety and our sanity? What are we attached to?
I decided to write about attachment on a Mormon Monday because I, as an LDS person, have many religious expectations about myself and my family. These attachments caused me pain, guilt, and stress, and overall, they undermined joy.
Over the last year or so I’ve had to let go of many of my own personal religious attachments that were no longer working for my family. I had to release the proverbial bananas.
Banana #1: Holding a picture-perfect Family Home Evening on Monday night.
I managed to preserve Monday night for Family Home Evening for several years. I even remember not signing Elle up for a ballet class because it was on Monday night. But as time went on and the kids got older, it grew harder and harder to protect Monday night. Crew played in a Monday night baseball league and Elle had a required dance class Monday nights. Mondays just weren’t working for us anymore.
I had to let go of this banana and open my mind to other ideas. Now sometimes we have Family Home Evening on Sunday nights or even Sunday afternoons. Sometimes we hold FHE in our living room, but sometimes we have it in our car as we drive down the canyon to grandma’s. It actually works pretty well since the drive takes 50 minutes, every one is contained, and everyone has to sit still. We sing with the iPad and the person giving the lesson just has to talk loud enough for everyone to hear. If we don’t cover everything we want to on the drive down, there is always the drive back. Are we going to make the cover of the Ensign with our non-conventional way? No, but at least we are having Family Home Evening.
Banana #2: Family Dinner with everyone sitting around the dinner table.
I am strongly attached to the idea of family dinner, so this banana was hard for me to give up. Despite my best efforts to coordinate and calendar, there are many days of the week when there is literally no time when we are all home. Dad leaves at 6:30 am for work and the older kids are gone until 9:30 pm somedays. I had to let myself accept the idea of a family meal instead.
In all the research about the benefits of a family dinner, the research says that breakfast, lunch, or even a snack can reap the same benefits of family dinner as long as one adult is present at the meal. This expanded definition steeped in research helped me let go of the banana. So sometimes our “family dinner” is actually “breakfast with mom” or we all gather around for “late night cereal.” I rant about how cold cereal is terrible choice while Chad and the kids smile back at me as they spoon in the Golden Grahams. Sometimes we may have two “family dinners.” I eat with two kids on an earlier shift and dad eats with two kids on a later shift. We don’t sit at our table saying “please pass,” every night, but we still have our version of “family dinner” every day.
Banana #3: Family Scripture Study with everyone sitting around the couch round-robin reading.
Chad travels a lot and just can’t be at every Family Scripture Study. We don’t see Elle on Tuesdays until 9:00 at night and sometimes I have a meeting. We can either wait and hold other children up past their bedtime or we can have scripture study earlier with one or two people missing. We let go of the banana and regularly hold Family Scripture Study without everyone in the family there. We figure 4/6 people reading the scriptures is better than 0/6.
Sometimes Chad just reads to everyone because no one feels like opening their books, and other times the kids fight over who gets to read. Sometimes we have deep, meaningful conversations about the text and other times we skim over with no idea of what we just read. Sometimes we read just one verse and other times we read more than one chapter. We let go of the idea of the picture perfect Family Scripture study and saved our sanity in the meantime.
Now some of you may think that I am slipping or slacking, and you may be right. All I know is that I am continually asking and assessing and trying to make my family work. Hopefully, I will hear the prompting if I am supposed to go back and pick up the bananas. But for now I am much happier and feel much less pressure letting go of the bananas. I feel more peace and less guilt.
I am not saying to let all commandments, suggestions, expectations go. Notice I didn’t let go of the concept of Family Home Evening. I let go of the idea of Family Home Evening on a Monday night fit for an Ensign cover. There is a difference.
Elder Holland’s quote yesterday in conference makes me feel better for dropping my bananas too: “The great thing about the gospel is that we get credit for trying even though we don’t succeed.”
But attachment is so much more than just for my Mormon issues. Attachment can infiltrate all parts of our lives. For example:
How I thought homeschool would look vs. how it really looks.
What kind of parent I thought I would be vs. what kind of parent I really am.
How I thought my kids would behave vs. their own personalities.
How I pictured my house looking vs. how it really looks.
What I thought my butt would look like after a year of exercising vs. the jiggle that still is
How Mother’s Day will be celebrated in my head vs. what actually happens that day
So the moral of the monkey story is let go of the bananas that are holding you back. Detach from the expectations that you are gripping for yourself and others. Give up whatever isn’t serving your best good. Surrender and find more peace and more happiness.
We don’t want to be battered, broken-spirited monkeys caught by our own fists.