76: Letting Go

76: Letting Go

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Golf and Sport

Letting Go

The orange-clad monk smiled at our blond hair.

“From where you come?” he asked.

I wondered if he could understand how far away the Rocky Mountains actually were from this Buddhist temple in southern Thailand, and yet how much at home I really felt.

“America?” he beamed, and pointed at himself: “I student of English!”

He handed me a book in English on Buddha’s four noble truths. As I opened it, my eyes came to rest on a page dealing with the origin of suffering. Buddha says that the root of all suffering stems from attachment—attachment to ourselves, to our possessions, to our activities, to our opinions.

I looked at my teenage son, Eri. Here we were on our father-andson journey to new places and new ideas, exploring the world with all our senses, finding real sights and sounds, smells and tastes—things you can’t get through textbooks and television. We were taking a year off from what we thought was our life, to discover what else it could be.

Two boys, one in his forties and the other fourteen, both celebrating a rite of passage of sorts, wandering in Southeast Asia—our backpacks filled with camera, clothing and assorted “necessities.”

Reading the wisdom of Buddha’s words, Eri and I nodded in agreement with the principle of nonattachment. I stared at the radiant, shaven-headed monk who owned nothing, and reflected on attachment. Life does seem to get easier when I let go a bit. There are the little things like giving away old clothes or tossing out old files after years of pack-ratting. Then there are the big things, like letting go of an unworkable relationship, or a job that makes dollars, but no sense.

Driving away, we thought about the monk’s smile, Buddha’s words and an old mindfulness prayer:

Breathing in, I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is the only moment.

The test for letting go was just beginning. Somehow I think God knew we were just novices and that more training was needed. Each day it was something else—misplaced keys, passports, scuba mask and more. It kept the pressure on to really let go. After a couple of arduous weeks, we thought we had it made, the principle of letting go now firmly established. We purchased a new Nikon camera, to replace the one we had accidentally ruined.

It was late afternoon some days later on the tenth hole of a jungle golf course. Eri and I are both avid golfers, and the one constant in life (besides change) is that golf can be played anywhere, even in the jungles of Southeast Asia. I was about to nail my approach shot to the green when a monkey came out of the jungle and began to cross the fairway. We had never seen a monkey in the wild before—and certainly never one on a golf course—so Eri immediately took out our new camera. As he approached, the animal growled, bared his teeth and made an ugly swipe with its hand. Eri backed up and froze. Four baby monkeys appeared out of the forest behind the monkey. The threatening gesture must have been to protect the babies. We smiled at this unique sight, something never seen on the Pebble Beach links.

Suddenly, a large male with a full beard, jagged teeth and a Clint Eastwood squint emerged and slowly began to knuckle his way toward us. Despite all my years of martial-art training, I was devoid of aikido techniques for large, hostile simians. One look at the size of his arms made me thankful I was holding a five-iron. With each step he took toward us, we backed away. He kept coming.

“What do we do, Dad?” Eri asked nervously.

I said, “Judging the lie the monkey has, and the distance to the pin, a five-iron is the club of choice.”

He grabbed a three-wood. Eri rarely takes my golf tips.

Laughing, we calmed ourselves and relaxed, and the monkey seemed to relax too, and turned away from us as he developed an interest in my recently abandoned golf bag. He began touching the clubs, and picking up my ball and tossing it, as if to say, I don’t play Top-Flites. Do you have any Titleists here?

Just as I said to Eri, “This will make some great photos,” all three of us noticed the camera on the ground near the bag where Eri had left it when he had hurriedly picked up his three-wood. The monkey eyed it carefully and approached it... my camera. So much for my attitude of detachment.

I stepped forward to claim what was rightfully mine and said to the macho primate, “Hey, don’t even think about it, you big...” But I was frozen in my tracks by one fixed make-my-day glare. The monkey reached down and swooped up the camera... my brand-new camera!

I tried mental telepathy. No response. He deftly removed the case, took the camera and held it up to one eye.

I know this sounds like too much artistic license, and I’m sure if I didn’t have a witness to corroborate the story, I couldn’t trust myself to repeat it. But I swear that this hairy primate with the beady eyes began to mimic a professional fashion photographer, as if working on the proper angles and lighting. I imagined him muttering to himself: Beautiful, beautiful. You two look great! After a couple of minutes, he wrapped the camera strap around his wrist and ambled off into the jungle.

In the approaching darkness, father and son, golf clubs in hand, followed nervously, looking for a monkey who had stolen their camera. To what strange karmic past did I owe such a teaching?

Exposing our human inadequacy, the monkey gracefully and swiftly ascended sixty feet up a tree. We agonized as he swung happily from branch to branch, banging our camera along with him. Mercifully, an idea surfaced. “Remember the book Caps for Sale?” I asked Eri.

It’s a children’s story about a cap peddler who has all but one stolen by monkeys, who each put on a cap, climb into a tree and mimic the peddler as he rages below. Finally, the peddler throws his remaining cap on the ground, and voilà! The rest of the caps come flying out of the tree as they mimic him again. Our solution was obvious.

We began to throw clubs, coconuts, rocks, golf balls and sunglasses to the ground, all with one eye on our hairy friend as he studied our antics below and fingered our camera. Then, in the honored lineage of all the great masters, he opened the battery compartment, removed the two batteries, and in a frivolous gesture, tossed them at our feet.

The sun had now set. Two boys, one in his forties and the other fourteen, lay laughing on the jungle floor, looking up at a bemused, long-armed relative. The boys had been forced to let go of a killer case of the clings. Let go, let God. Relax. Release attachments. Everything is unfolding perfectly. And, after all, we did get the batteries back.

As soon as we were ready to go, what do you think happened? Did the monkey toss our camera down? No. But the principle of letting go is that it is not a manipulative technique to control the universe. As Buckminster Fuller once said, “You did not create this universe, and you do not control it.”

However, if you ever stumble across a monkey somewhere in Southeast Asia carrying a Nikon camera, follow him. It was a good camera.

~Thomas F. Crum
Chicken Soup to Inspire the Body & Soul

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