Freedom is the Art of Letting Go

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    As a young boy growing up in Afikpo village in West Africa, my siblings and I often joined our extended family members to tell stories under the moonlight. My grandfather was a brilliant storyteller. He was fond of having his audience come up with the underlying significance of each story he told. Often we were able to come up with a merit that satisfied him. But there were occasions when we missed the point completely.

    The story that follows posed a challenge for us despite its simplicity. It is a story that highlights a key prerequisite for freedom – letting go!

    As usual, before beginning a story, grandpa would first clear his throat, take a sip of palm wine from his calabash cup and pause momentarily as if to gather his thoughts. He would then launch a vivid tale that is guaranteed to mesmerize his audience for the rest of the evening.

    The monkey story

    There was once a special breed of monkeys known as "palm monkeys." They were so named because of their affinity for palm kernels or nuts. The monkeys enjoyed eating the outside layers of palm kernels and playing with the hard shell. Palm monkeys were the most colorful of their species. They were also clever and incredibly fast. Their climbing ability was second to no other animal in the African rain forest.

    One day, purely by accident a local medicine man discovered that ingesting palm monkey meat increased supernatural abilities in humans and made warriors out of ordinary men. Thereafter, the palm monkey became a very expensive delicacy. Hunters would take extreme measures to catch the monkeys but often failed because of the natural sophistication, speed and cleverness of the animal. For years hunters tried to come up with a strategy for capturing them, but nothing seemed to work.

    Finally, after having studied the monkeys for several years, an astute hunter came up with the "bottle neck technique." He reasoned that he can capture the monkeys by simply dropping their favorite appetizer (the palm kernel) into an empty bottle, similar to a coke bottle. He would then tie a rope around the bottle while holding the other end of the rope hidden in the bushes. His strategy was marvelous.

    A roaming palm monkey immediately became curious when it spotted a bottle containing a nut. It moved closer to scrutinize the content and was thrilled to see a fresh palm kernel loosely isolated in the bottle. There was no hesitation in going for it! The monkey reached in for the nut, while the hunter observed from the bushes. As anticipated, the monkey’s hand got stuck inside the bottle after grabbing the nut, because holding the nut required the monkey to clench its fist. Witnessing the monkey’s predicament, the shrewd hunter began to reel in the bottle together with the monkey.

    Of course, when the monkey saw the hunter and realized this was a trap, it screamed frantically in a high pitch tone and was jumping up and down in protest. It struggled to promptly extract the nut from the bottle and escape. But unable to timely pull its clenched fist out of the neck of the bottle, the monkey was captured.

    From then on, this simple technique became the classic method for capturing the fastest, most clever and colorful monkeys in the African rain forest. As the hunt for the animal continued over many years, the palm monkeys eventually became extinct.

    Patience and curious smile

    At this point my grandfather looked at our sad faces and asked us what the monkey could have done differently to escape. We came up with all kinds of answers, such as, "It could have ran faster," "It could have called for help from other monkeys," and so on. But grandpa’s patience and curious smile indicated that he was expecting a much simpler but profound response. When he was convinced that we had exhausted our analytical capability, he finally unveiled the wisdom. In a calm voice, he whispered, "All the monkey had to do was let go of the nut, and it could have easily pulled its hand out of the bottle and made a run for the nearest tree."

    Our lives today sometimes reflect the same predicament as the palm monkey. We keep holding on to our unique "palm nut" until we are reeled in by circumstances that force us to forfeit our purpose and magnificence as souls and settle for life’s mundane enticements. Examine your life and ask yourself a simple question: "What ‘palm nut’ am I holding on to?" Then realize that all you have to do is let go of the nut, and you too can easily pull your hand out of the bottle.

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