At a very early age, I saw my Dad’s best friend (who was like a second father to me) die of lung cancer; like many strong-minded, stubborn latin american men, he took to smoking from an early age, and it killed him at the peak of his life. With his selfish, self-gratifying act of pleasure, he was responsible for leaving 2 boys and a wife to fend for themselves in this world. For many years, I resented him for that. I asked myself “How could he be so selfish, and inflict that much pain to his loved ones, when every day of his life he had the choice to stop smoking?”
Over time, I learned to forgive him, accept the mistakes that he made, and judge him with far more compassion. It’s been many years since this happened (I must have been seven or eight at the time); my dad called him “El Mico” Caballero (which translates as “The Gentle Monkey”), a very appropriate nickname now that I think about it. Why? Because we all have a ‘mad monkey’ living in the attic; I am talking about the incessant chatter that our minds create every second of our lives. If you have never noticed this ‘mad monkey’ you have inside your head, I suggest a little exercise that won’t take more than 5 minutes.
First, go to a quiet, peaceful place (for me, it is a place overlooking the ocean, but choose a place that works for you). The important thing is that you can be alone, not be distracted, and be at peace with the Universe. Once you are there, sit in a comfortable positionm close your eyes, and start counting your breathing. Every time you exhale, count a number. Here comes the tricky part: Try to be aware of how many times you either loose count; start thinking of something else; or get distracted in an internal conversation about a mundane topic.
What happened? All those random, purpose-less thoughts were your ‘Mad Monkey’ at work. The problem with him is that it usually talks so much, so often, and without a pause, that it makes it very difficult for us to have moments of clear thought.
Have you noticed what happens when you do something without first thinking about it? Would it be fair to say that most of the time, when you “think before you act”, you make wise decisions that lead to a positive outcome; and when you “act before you think”, you make silly decisions that lead to a mistake?
In the case of “The Gentle Monkey”, he made a mistake (choosing to open a pack of cigarretes) too many times for his own good, or for the good of his family. That mistake cost him is life, and created an incredible amount of anxiety and instability in the life of hes loved ones.
It is important to understand that mistakes are an unavoidable part of life – we are all human, after all. More importantly, it is how we learn. Can you remember what it was like to learn to walk? How many times did we try to stand, only to fall in a split second? How many times did we decide to stand up and try again? How many times did we decide it was too much work and gave up, only to have Mum & Dad encourage us by picking us up and making us stand again? And How many times did we gave up because it was too much work, only to realise later on that we simply were tired before, and now that we had rested, we were willing to try again? And again? And again, and again, and again until we finally made it?
The interesting thing is that learning to walk itself is the most amazing story of perseverance in the face of adversity; of tenacity and passion; of compassion and love. We have all lived that story. We have all learned the lessons that were to be learned from them. How many of us, however, have forgotten many of the skills and life-tools we were given at such an early age?
That is why we must have compassion for our fellow men and women. We were all born without anything; we all went through the experiences in our formative years that gave us all the tools and knowledge we needed to succeed in life. Unfortunately, some of us have bad memories, and twenty, thirty, or fifty years later, ended up doing things we are ashamed of. And many of us continue to do them despite the fact that we still feel ashamed and guilty about them.
If we know all that we need to succeed in life, why is it that so few of us experience total success throughout life? That’s one of life’s paradoxes and most perplexing mysteries.
We’re all human, after all.