Snowing the Monkey

While watching an episode of Life with the family recently we were suddenly all feeling rather sad to learn that Japanese Snow Monkeys do not share their volcanically heated natural Jacuzzi.  While the matriarchs decide who’s in and who’s out (enforced by bouncer monkeys), the outsiders are literally left out in the cold.  My older kid said that he wished he hadn’t seen that image and all of us felt disturbed by the sight of excluded and freezing monkeys in contrast to the cozy monkeys blissfully hanging out in their mountain spa.  Days later the image still keeps haunting me.

And it makes me think about being in the mountains of New Mexico working on a friend’s NYU thesis film.  It might have been the exhaustion of having just completed shooting my own thesis project the week before; it might have been the spirit of that place where Georgia O’Keefe had hung out back in the day (her former Native American driver was helping on our project, and told tales of trucks stalling out on a certain mountain pass and then rolling… uphill); it might have been the blazing sun and the biting fire ants, but I ended up getting quite sick.  For several days I lay on the floor of the little adobe shack where we were staked out while the rest of the crew went out to shoot, eventually the Native American spirits came and circled me.  I guess I was hallucinating, but I could swear I saw those guys as clearly as one can see with a high fever.  One of my friends realized that even though we were guys in our twenties, the right thing to do was to gather me off the floor and drive me down to Santa Fe.

The doctor in town announced that I had a 104 fever and that gave me permission to check into a pretty good hotel and recover… from everything.  Okay, now what does this have to do with Snow Monkeys?  Well, recently a friend mentioned the “hundredth monkey” concept to me, associating it with Rupert Sheldrake, a rather interesting, if unconventional, thinker.  The theory of “the hundredth monkey” goes back to a 1979 book by Lyall Watson; and while most information investigating the veracity of the story (about monkeys learning to wash their sweet potatoes in sea water to get the sand off… and then it reaching a critical moment where enough monkeys know the new idea for it to jump to another island of monkeys with no direct contact with the first group—some sort of telepathic tipping point) points toward the story being anecdotal, unconfirmed and apocryphal, the story has nevertheless become an urban legend with a life of its own.

Maybe people cotton to the hundredth monkey story because we humans sense that we could do better than we are doing, that there is something kind and gentle in us that is hovering in readiness to move our consciousness up a notch—toward a more collective understanding of our human condition and a diminished acceptance of deprivation, abuse and misfortune for our fellows (human and animal).  So far we have had a lot of failed social movements in which promises of utopia always end with corruption and human disillusionment; and yet a different consciousness, rather than a different system of government, religion or cultural organization, may be the ticket we’re all somehow looking toward.  But perhaps because we humans are such keen symbol-makers we look for the hero, the emblem, the leader, the peace-sign poster that we can all grasp with our rational and language-making minds—and yet a truly new consciousness may not be recognizable in a conventional sense, it might be more like a hundredth monkey sort of shift that seems to spontaneously occur and look rather unlike anything that we could fit into our old and limited paradigms.

When I Googled Sheldrake I learned that he had been stabbed in the leg by someone at a hotel conference in Santa Fe (assaulted by someone who thought that Sheldrake had been using telepathy to control his own mind).  The friend who told me about Sheldrake had been in the Mountains of Chimayo with me in the 80’s, and the hotel where I recovered from my surreal trip was one and the same with Sheldrake’s macabre run-in.  Sometimes a shift in consciousness tastes like a sweet potato, but sometimes it feels like a knife in the thigh.  If Jung is right in suggesting that by being conscious of our Shadow it may be less likely to take form and literally confront us, maybe if we realize both our inner cruelty and our inner left out Snow Monkeys we wouldn’t need this cruel, split and warring world to represent some Darwinian nightmare of our own making back to our clueless selves.

If each of us is like a crossing of multiple threads in a vast spider-web of consciousness, all connected with each other, and each offered opportunity to examine our own infinitely compelling synchronicities and coincidences, our own paranormal and non-rational experiences, our own dimly perceived whisperings that we dare not acknowledge lest we find ourselves mocked (if not hospitalized), perhaps we gather at a virtual spa in the mountains of our mythic consciousness, only this time there is room for everyone at the inn.  The hundredth monkey is a subtle realization, one that needs no soapbox, no media platform, no corporate sponsor, no brand and no wisdom text.  Perhaps we’ll know that it’s upon us when we no longer grind on the sand of fear and desire between our teeth, when things simply become soft and real and life just is what it is once again.  It is said that education means to draw knowledge forth, rather than to stuff it in; this makes sense to me, and suggests that we humans already have it, it’s just trusting that our lives, as they are, are ultimately perfect teachers of perfect wisdom—of the Oneness that cannot ultimately and definitively exclude anyone, any thought or any single thing.

I think that many of us yearn to express nearly inexpressible feelings of love and wonderment, to ask questions and admit secret dreads, to requite longings to sing our unique songs and at the same time be fully connected with our fellows, with the song of it all in concert with itself.  We can all relate to the sad monkey out in the snow.  Nature shows always say of the excluded monkey or the torn apart gazelle, “That’s nature,” but is that all she wrote, that Nature Goddess?  Nature shows don’t say, “And then the spirit of the gazelle joined the spirit of the hyenas and they played games and laughed and spoke tenderly about the wheel of life and death.”

For all we know Snow Monkeys see humans with cameras and put on their big “Let’s freeze out the other monkey” drama in a hundredth monkey gambit to educate us about our mistaken ways.  Maybe they all shout, “It’s clear, the humans are gone, poor fools, everybody back in the hot-tub before you catch a cold.”

I’m sure most rational people wouldn’t see it this way, but then maybe they’re just not running a high enough fever.  We go out and study primates, look at fossils, debate evolution vs. creation (when Einstein might say that both sides are wrong, because there is no time in which time-lines can ultimately roll out) and fancy ourselves above nature, however, it seems equally plausible that the rest of nature is watching us with jaws wide open in disbelief wondering if we really can remain so obtuse, ego-centric and sure of ourselves—wondering if we are just going to keep eating dirt or take a cue from a monkey and wash the sand from our eyes.

Our global network of connections do not suddenly connect us so much as symbolically represent back to us the fact that we have always been connected—that the infinite situation in which we live is a unity that cannot be objectively observed but only participated in.  The hundredth monkey is a human-made symbol-story, but the truly great mystery is the unity that makes us and our time and our stories—the unity that parenting stands as universal path back toward—the consciousness of loving another beyond even ourselves and thus widening our concept of Self ever wider to include the entire field in which we abide.  Then we’re done counting monkeys and we truly just are—in the spa, out in the cold, living, dying, evolving, creating, destroying, creating again and loving as a consciousness of mutual recognition of spirit.

Whether or not this makes any sense, it just might be part of our collective experience of waking up—awakening to a natural and eternal consciousness in which being a good parent is way too self-conscious of an idea, too old school and human circa 2010—arriving at a more fluid and less intellectual place where smart need not be thrown out, nor cites destroyed in favor of jungle, nor language jettisoned in favor of grunts, but simply inviting a higher ethic of spontaneously relinquishing our pointless competition and learning to live in harmony with each other and our environment (whether it gets hotter, colder or more crowded) rather than always dominating it as if we stand grandiosely separate from it—not to mention from all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce


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4 Responses to “Snowing the Monkey”

  1. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    I watched Life with my husband and toddler and felt deeply sad at several points – not least among them the snow monkey exclusion sequence. Watching a helpless, hapless bunny try to evade some sort of weasel while his bunny brethren looked on, seemingly unmoved was almost too painful a parallel to watch. Part of me felt empty at the reminder that so much of our competitive, self-centered nature we share with the animals.

    So can we overcome our hard-wiring (if it really is so) to throw our souls into the collective? Is it possible that that is why humans are distinct from the animals? The ability to think our way into connection, into making room in the metaphorical jacuzzi?

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      I don’t know, but I really care about the question. In some ways I wonder if we have to somehow bridge the opposites of transcending our ego-selves via higher consciousness and at the same time re-connecting to the consciousness of nature as a unified field from which we do not stand apart. Maybe that’s where the opposites meet, or maybe it’s in truly loving that we can love rather than think our way (or love AND think) to wherever it is that we’re all going.

  2. Beth K Says:

    A very thought-provoking post. The part about the snow monkeys putting on the drama to educate us humans made me laugh.

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