Does the Monkey Have Too Long a Tale?

As usual, I opened my little anthology of Zen quotations this morning to a random page and read the quote aloud. When I read it, I suspected the Universe had been listening in on my thoughts and was offering advice unexpectedly by picking the page I read. I do not believe that, of course, but the coincidence is more than a little…coincidental.

To gain enlightenment,
you must want it
as much as a man whose head
is held under water
wants air.

~ Attributed as ‘Zen Saying’ ~

That quotation, along with a video I watched yesterday (and about which I’ll write in a few moments), triggered some sharp, self-critical thoughts that, I hope, will generate some much-needed changes in my behaviors or attitudes or daily activities or all of the above.


Before I continue, I want to acknowledge that my posts are too long, too disconnected (both internally and between themselves), and probably difficult to read and follow. At least sometimes. I really never expected people would want to read them. They’ve almost always been for myself…like talking to myself without making noises that might get me committed to places I don’t want to go. That notwithstanding, I’m flattered and appreciative of the people who read what I write. More than anyone, you must be the people who “get” me, to the extent I can be “got.” And I thank you for that. This post is too long, like so many others. But, considering that it’s being written by a monkey, its length is really of no consequence, is it? Can the monkey really have too long a tale?


Most of the last five or six years, a great deal of my time has been spent listening to how horrible Trump is. I spent plenty of that time saying the same thing. And I believed it and still do. But the fact that it’s true does not mean that I have to keep harping on it. A few days ago, I spent several hours hearing the same thing again. The conversation could have been complimentary about how Mother Nature had sparkled up the day or about how we all hope Biden’s leadership will lead us in positive directions. Or we could have talked about music or growing fig trees in northern Canada or learning to create leaded glass art or the alleged threats posed by China and Russia to freedom, democracy, and the American Way. But, instead, it was like a broken record. And, I’ll admit, I threw in a few of my own golden oldies. But I’ll admit, too, I am sick of it. Let it rest for awhile, while the prosecutors do their work. Let it rest, even if Trump and his minions are screaming bloody murder and installing automatons in Congressional slots to do their bidding. Do what you will; write letters, send emails, send texts, organize visits to Congressional offices to argue your case. But do it quietly. Curse Trump under your breath at home. Let me attempt to forget his name and his legacy.  Rant completed.


I am concerned that the CDC may have bowed to social and/or political pressure when it made dramatic changes in recommendations about wearing masks. Suddenly, we can take them off almost anywhere, so long as we’ve been vaccinated. That is at odds with what was being advised (and the reasons for it) just a month or two ago. And the history of the CDC’s advice during the last year is a bit like the history of a ping-pong ball during the course of an international table tennis match. It’s understandable that the CDC does not have all the answers, but it’s own history of backtracking should cause its leaders to give pause before announcing major policy swings. That’s my concern at the moment. Will I wear a mask whenever I am around others? Probably not. It will be a circumstantial decision, based on a number of factors I will assess on a case-by-case basis. So, maybe I am just as inconsistent as the CDC. It’s not the worst thing anyone has ever said about me.


Yesterday was, for the most part, a drab, grey, rainy, coolish day. I left the house only long enough to reach the end of the driveway, collect the mail, and return. Once inside, I was inside for the remainder of the day. Expecting any visitors would call well in advance, I did not bother to shower or shave. And I remained in my comfortable shorts and ragged t-shirt all day, the clothes I put on when I got out of bed. Today, regardless of the weather, I will shower, dress, and become more or less presentable early on. I cancelled a commitment I had this morning to take care of some business around the house. And I expect a visitor sometime around mid-afternoon. Either before or after, I will go to the post office and to the grocery store, where I will pick up some fruits and veggies. I have plenty of protein in the house, wrapped up in various forms in the freezer or awaiting the can opener (tuna, salmon, oysters, etc.). As far as I can tell, I have no other outside commitments. So, I will focus on stuff here at home; there’s more than enough to keep me busy for ten years.


In the first paragraph of this post, I alluded to what I’m about to address. I did not respond well to the traumas I encountered during the last year. Unlike so many people who seemed to have been inspired by the challenges of COVID-19, my energy seemed to dwindle. Later, when my wife became ill and went into the hospital and rehab facilities, my strength ebbed even more. I think I noticed it first in declining enthusiasm to fulfill commitments I had made before the world appeared to begin to unravel. Rather than confront it, I more or less ignored it. “It’s temporary,” I thought, “I will come out of the doldrums soon, after I’ve taken the time I need to adapt.” The time I needed to adapt expanded to fill the time available. And, it seems, it’s still expanding. I’ve given myself permission to stay in a state of moderate lethargy for months and months and month. After a few months, I think I more or less forgot about it; I allowed my new low-energy persona to become normal.

Part of the reason I’ve recognized this state of affairs again is that I watched a video yesterday, which kicked off a new fund-raising drive for church, that called attention to all the volunteerism that grew out of the the challenges of the year. Responses like the ones I SHOULD have had. A lot of people were unwilling to let COVID-19 quash their enthusiasm. Their love for the people who comprise the church was amplified, it seems, by being put to the test by a threat. They jumped in and did even more than they had before. I, on the other hand, let things slide. I drifted away from my commitment to a group who committed to promoting environmental responsibility in the church and the community. I delayed following up to ensure that efforts continued to implement long term plans. I volunteered to undertake a project, then let it slide when confronted with disappointments. At about the same time, I had agreed to assume something of an apprenticeship to take on oversight of a major program. It wasn’t long before I realized I had overcommitted in an area about which my enthusiasm was not sufficient to begin with, and it just continued to decline. I will give myself a slight pass on the latter issues; during that process, my wife’s condition worsened considerably. But while my wife’s illness and death no doubt contributed to my apathy, I am responsible for failing to take action to overcome that dispassionate detachment. It was like I no longer cared as much; at least not enough to actually follow through on my commitments the way I normally would.

Recognition of the drop in my activities in support of the church sparked my thinking about the matter. But the decline in my church involvement is by no means the only result of my response to trauma. Every aspect of engagement seems to have suffered. While I’ve never been much of a fan of telephone chats, I seem to have almost abandoned the phone, which translates into fewer interactions with people I care about. And I’ve virtually stopped writing the kind of stuff I used to love writing, opting instead to devote most of my writing to journaling, as if I’m writing a diary instead of a blog [like this]. I do not even get in touch with old friends the way I used to. My periodic promises to get in touch “soon” often go unfulfilled.

Another response to the traumas of COVID-19 and my wife’s death has been very significant weight gain. I talk about and think about “doing something about it,” but to date all I have done is allow it to continue, unchecked. Instead of taking positive steps to relieve my growing level of stress, I have reacted by attempting to mask it in various ways, not the least of which has involved my consumption of food and booze. I made some half-hearted attempts to replace those crutches with another one, medicinal cannabis, but that has been rare and not especially useful.

All of these defects in my commitments and enthusiasm lead only to one conclusion: I have to reverse course. I won’t kid myself into thinking a quick “aha!” moment will fix everything. It took time for my physical and mental exhaustion to take their toll and it will take time for me to recover from months and months and months of lethargy. I hope my commitment to recover something of my “old self” will take hold; I desperately want to fulfill that one. I intend to be selective in my commitments from here on and more assertive when I decline to take on new ones. I’ve said “no” only a few times when asked and I should have used the word exponentially more. I plan to be more practical. Time will tell if this, like so much else, is just an explosion of words that disappear into the ether. Splash! I’ve pulled my head out of the water and taken my first breath of air in far too long. Now, do I want enlightenment as much?


This especially long post may be one of the last ones that will take up so much space and time. I have things to do with myself.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Does the Monkey Have Too Long a Tale?

  1. Thanks, Paula. You should have been sleeping when you left that comment!

  2. Paula Newman says:

    Breathe it in, John! Cheering you on from afar.

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