2015: Catching Monkeys

Monkey 2015

2015 is going to be a different kinda year.

I don’t know exactly what that means, but I do have a sense that it will be interesting in some way that I don’t yet understand. And by “interesting” I think I mean “good.”

Now, to figure out what it means, and how to get there. That’s when I can become impatient, or easily distracted. Life rarely unfolds at the pace that I would prefer – including both external and internal change. (I’m sure a couple of you might know what I mean.)

A few years ago, when I was in Africa, I heard an expression used several times that seems apropos for the new year. It has been around for hundreds of years, supposedly originating in Ghana. The idiom is this:

“Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey.”

The idea is that if you want to want to catch a monkey, you need to be patient, and approach it slowly. If you are hasty, the monkey will just run off. Yes, it is similar in principle to the American concept of “Baby Steps”, by Dr. Leo Marvin.  (Too obscure? Perhaps.)

The scriptures say it this way:

Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength…(D&C 10:4)

By small and simple things are great things come to pass. (Alma 37:6)

Then there is a quote by an old German philosopher dude named Friedrich Nietzche. Now I’m not suggesting that Friedrich is the go-to guy for enlightenment, because a lot of what he says is whacky, but there is a phrase in one of his quotes that I really, really like. I’ll even bold that part.

“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”

Cool, dontchya think?

I like the idea of a “long obedience.” Obedience is not a flighty thing that can be tossed to and fro, but takes time, perseverance, and obviously, a path in the same direction – in a straight course.

In that I’m not sure what the year holds for me, my goal setting/resolution process is a little fuzzy for the start of a new year. But for those of you who have made resolutions, check them and check if they are the sort of thing that might require a “long obedience” to achieve.

Things like fitness, weight-loss, developing a new skill, or a talent are all efforts that require a degree of obedience to whatever principle drives the progress. They also require a long view – a monkey-catching view. Spiritual progress is also conditioned on “long obedience in the same direction.”

Back in ’89, President Ezra Taft Benson spoke to the idea of “Slowly, slowly catchee salvation.”

“Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible. The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically, in an instant, as it were: Alma the Younger, Paul on the road to Damascus, Enos praying far into the night, King Lamoni. Such astonishing examples of the power to change even those steeped in sin give confidence that the Atonement can reach even those deepest in despair.

But we must be cautious as we discuss these remarkable examples. Though they are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule. For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said “were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghostand they knew it not.

Goals and resolutions can be worthwhile, they can also be enormously frustrating. Personally, change comes slowly to me. If I were better at appreciating the benefits that come from long obedience, I might have the discipline to keep plugging, and to slowly catch whichever monkey I happen to be chasing.

Take a deep breath, look at your resolutions, and throttle back. We are more likely to achieve them if we take a long view, than if we come charging out of the gate and run out of gas by, say, next Wednesday.

It is a journey, and not a race, but a journey still demands movement. Best wishes on your journey this coming year.

(I made this picture as a joke, but the more I think about it…)

Richard Nixon Petting Circus Lion

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  1. Sometimes, Nietzche is pietzche. For decades I’ve been into “eating the elephant one bite at a time”. I remind myself that direction is (usually) far more iimportant than speed.

  2. Great thoughts for the new year. I love that quote by President Benson, and have shared it with my seminary class several times over the last few years. Slow and steady wins the race.
    And I got the baby steps reference! 😉

  3. Going to have to watch “What about Bob” today. To bad we have 1:00 church! 🙂

  4. And again, you post the perfect thing this morning. I’ve always likened living the gospel to running a marathon. Long time perserverance. Some miles are better than others, but the long term goal/prize is worth the pain and tough parts we suffer or experience along the way. Well done sir

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