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The Monkey and The Rice

Headlines: Hungry monkeys get fist stuck in tree because it won’t let go of the warm rice inside to save its life. Reporters say: “It was so sad, they were just hanging there, all scraggly and whiny, almost dead from thirst and hunger.”

Okay, I exaggerate.
The full story my Yoga teacher told us in class goes like this:

“An experiment was conducted on monkeys to determine the power of hunger, survival, etc. The researchers put a vat of warm, cooked rice in a tree near a bunch of hungry monkeys and made the hole to it only big enough for the monkey’s hand to go in un-fisted. When the hungry monkeys grabbed for the rice they couldn’t get their hands out because they wouldn’t let go of the rice. All they had to do was let go of the rice to get unstuck.”

So I’m thinking—of course they won’t let go, it’s not in their nature to anticipate human deception. My second thought was, poor little monkey didn’t know how to make their hand into a cup and gently pull it out the way it went in.

Well, as my Yoga teacher went on it was clear I missed the point entirely. As I lay in Shivasana– all blissed out, she said, “what are your hungry monkeys that keep you stuck? All we need to do is let go of that thing that we want so bad and there is love all around. Everything we need is here now.

Given that the most interesting things that have happened in my life occurred as I was being a curious, hungry, dumb monkey– I had to silently object. I growled a little listening to her. The man on my right side giggled.

How to keep ourselves aired, fresh and new enough to keep that imagination in full throttle? The engine that creates those dreams and goals going– while letting go of that warm, gushy rice we’re so hungry for. On second thought, squishy rice in my hands doesn’t seem very compelling. But you get my point. So I made this list that incorporates both the positive results of letting go of the rice and hanging on.

HUNGRY GIRL GIVES IT UP = a list positive change experiences:

• At 32 years old I let go of the identity of tomboy long enough to understand what all the fuss is about with shoes and make up. I’ll admit it was pretty thrilling to learn how to dress and wear make up.

• A year later I gave up make up and kept perfume and took welding classes at this artist warehouse in Berkley Ca. I learned that good perfume, good boots, a dirty face, a tank top and crappy overalls can be sexy. Who knew?

• When I gave up Dakota’s brother and got him a girl. A very hard thing to do.

• When I let go of my Saab Convertible and rode a bike for a year.

THINGS I WON’T GIVE UP = positive experiences:

• Being WILD: Lately I’ve heard rumors, stuff I had forgotten about:

“Niya Christine had a lot of energy. She was wild” –S.

“Wow, your paintings have really progressed. It’s great to be in touch with you again, you wild woman.”–A.

“Do you remember that party where you shmooshed chocolate pudding all over that guy’s face?” –Si.

Well clearly I’ve outsmarted the tree and ate a little too much rice. My life currently looks nothing like the above. But stay tuned, I have plans to change that.


• Won’t give up ambitions in writing.

• Won’t give up the desire to learn how to cook like the Japanese. Love all around. Love in the rice. Love in the little green edamame beans, love in the kimono the cook wears to commerate the experience.

• Something I want real bad: porecelin fillings to replace the silver. Probably won’t give this one up. And a great dentist to go with it.

• Will not give up painting, no matter the pressures to work in our work-a-bee society. I’m not sorry about that. Love everywhere when painting. It’s a guarantee.

• Will not let go of swimming, mountain biking, yoga; these things I crave daily and feel more of that love she’s talking about afterwards.

• And won’t give up on the dream of a goat, 5 chickens, many rabbits, a horse, a good man, big dog, a big art studio with skylights, world travel, fabulous clients, good friends who will chat about any ol’ thing.

I wonder if it’s to not to let go of the rice when important decisions require care and time. Yet to not starve — let go of a little rice, eat in small portions, slowly, look at the beautiful sky in the meantime and laugh at the hunger a bit–help out anther monkey in need…like that.

I don’t know, I’m just a hungry monkey rationalizing the virtue of hunger. The buddhists would likely fire me.

Crap! I have this Yoga teacher again tonight.


  • Elan on Mar 06, 2007 Reply

    Niya, you yogini-rebel you. I had the same thought about it being mean to the monkeys but I was right on board with the teachers lesson. Not surprising since I’m an aspiring yoga teacher… 😉 anyway, i love your freckles and look forward to seeing them tomorrow.

  • Verna Wilder on Nov 02, 2006 Reply

    I love the way your mind wanders through all kinds of irreverence when you’re having a Zen experience! I’m really enjoying your writing, Niya. Thanks so much for posting.

  • Ben on Apr 13, 2006 Reply

    Such a good write; such tartiness; such tofuooeyness; such……….Joy! Do Yoga teachers, during their breaks get together and try to outwit each other with allegories taking off from the “hand caught in the cookie jar” gambit? Gawd monkies eating rice out of a tree…Dream on Ms.X it’s getting good.

  • David B. Leikam on Apr 10, 2006 Reply

    Beautiful and insightful. Thank you, it didn’t hurt much. 🙂

  • Simone on Apr 10, 2006 Reply

    Dear Chocolate pudding-in-the-face smasher,
    I agree with Sage re: your compassion for the monkeys!! Damn yoga teachers. 🙂
    My monkey brain is grappling now with the idea of letting go of my hunger for romantic love. My hand is getting VERRRRRY sore keeping stuck in that metaphorical rice vat.
    Did you know that in Chinese astrology I’m the sign of the monkey? I don’t know what that has to do with your topic, except for the thing about monkeys. They can be very stubborn.
    I look forward to the use of my hand (again, metaphorically speaking, natch).
    I like your list of things you’re NOT letting go. Maybe if we got enough monkeys together, we could smash that damn vat of rice.
    Okay, back to work now.

  • Sage on Apr 10, 2006 Reply

    I LOVE that your compassion for the monkey completely overrides the teacher’s lesson about how grasping keeps us stuck! So very X!! And I love how you move with the monkeys: outsmarting the tree and eating too much rice, monkeys helping other monkeys. Brilliant stuff. I’m so happy to be swinging in your tree…Now let’s find us some Grade A banannas and leave all that rice bullshit behind!

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