Monkey in a Banana Tree

a powerful analogy

A powerful passage from writer and theologian Henri Nouwen…

“In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding; no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me—naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken—nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something. But that is not all. As soon as I decide to stay in my solitude, confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations jump about in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree. Anger and greed begin to show their ugly faces. I give long, hostile speeches to my enemies and dream lustful dreams in which I am wealthy, influential, and very attractive—or poor, ugly, and in need of immediate consolation.

… The task is to persevere in my solitude, to stay in my cell until all my seductive visitors get tired of pounding on my door and leave me alone.”


That image of what happens in our minds when we try to get quiet… “monkeys in a banana tree.”

How much time does it take before the “seductive visitors” of distraction get tired of pounding on our mental doors and leave us alone long enough for solitude to do its work?

When was the last time you tried to spend any length of time in simple silence?

Solitude and silence are disciplines of both the mind and the soul. Our mental clutter, as Nouwen writes, can pull us toward noise and people, afraid to face the silence.

But even when we are able to quiet the mind, the soul’s clamor kicks in with a deeper sort of noise.

There are no shortcuts here. You cannot get to silence, to its healing power to put you at the feet of God, without hard work. And until you are very practiced at it, you probably cannot get there without time.

Enough time to descend down into it, despite the chattering monkeys.

Even the setting aside of time takes intentional discipline. There is so much work to be done.

There is this sad passage in Isaiah 30, as God talks to his people: “For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.’ But you were not willing.”

If I scrape away all my excuses for my lack of silence (too much work to be done, too many distractions outside my control), what I find underneath is nothing more than simple fear. Fear that something bad will happen if I stop working, if I get silent, if I make space for questions and uncertainties to arise. If I look my true self in the eye.

But if in quietness and trust is where strength is found, then that is where we need to go.

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