They say that a Maasai warrior will die if he is locked up in prison. Close him in a dark room, keep him away from the sunshine and his cattle and he will be unable to imagine an end to this current state. Maasai cannot cling to a sweeter past or the potential for a better future. They live only for the present. Take away his present, and you take away his life.
Now, that’s just what “they” say and I’ve never gotten a straight answer on who “they” are. I don’t know if that’s true of modern Maasai people, but I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of that mindset.
Last winter, I was sick with one of those terrible coughs that gets much worse when you try to lay down to rest. So each night at bedtime, I’d lay down, desperate for the respite of sleep and instead accidentally work myself into a coughing fit. In the midst of those fits, while gasping for air I’d think “well, I can’t take singing lessons next semester” or “can you imagine how annoying this is going to be for my husband every time it’s time to sleep?” I can’t be kept from thoughts of the future, but they are suddenly always colored with the assumption that my present circumstances will stretch into forever.
The same thing happens to me when I don’t have a specific plan to leave the town where I’m living, in the near future. If I don’t have something planned, I start to believe I’ll just never travel again. If I’ve been on a slew of sub-par dates, I start to think I’ll just never connect deeply with another human for the rest of my life. (Despite having had a lifetime of both travel and great human connection).
I realized last week during a bout of the flu (that I assumed I’d still be dealing with as I welcomed my grandchildren into the world) that while I’ve been assigning undue permanence to things that are by their very nature temporary, I’ve also been anticipating auto-progression in areas of my life that require specific and deliberate effort from me to incite change.
This comedian does a bit about his attempt to eat healthier. As part of that effort, he purchased a juicer, got it all set up at home and picked a fruit to try out in it. He carefully peeled his choice: a banana, and put it into the machine. Juice was supposed to pour out the one end and the left over materials out the other. He put the banana in the machine and no juice came out. It was puzzling, but he simply took the mushy result and put it through the machine again thinking this time he’d get juice. It didn’t work. It was frustrating and unbelievable so to solve the problem, he got a new banana and started all over.
The lesson: you can’t juice a banana.
The real lesson: the [age-old] definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I’ve heard that saying a million times, but for some reason it had more impact when I thought about the absurdity of just putting banana after banana in the juicer rather than just realizing that if you want a different result, you have to put in a different type of effort.
The flu will run its course. It is temporary. It will pass and I will be healthy again. But my messy room won’t run its course.’ If I want to be a more organized or disciplined person, I can’t just wait for the day that will happen. I have to actually clean up and then make a concerted effort to keep things clean.
I would love to be a much more spiritual and gospel-oriented person. I think sometimes that I will automatically pull out of whatever slump I’m in with a change of scenery or when sufficient time has passed. But in fact, I have to actually stand up and change my habits. The scriptures won’t read themselves and if I keep putting bananas in the juicer, I won’t get a better me out of it just for having wanted to. I have to put something else into it. Something has to change.
Pay attention to those moments when you find yourself having a Maasai moment about something. Don’t let temporary issues feel permanent just because you’re not allowing yourself any real perspective. But realize too that issues that are continually failing to improve are as permanent as your unwillingness to alter the ingredients you’re putting into them. Stop putting bananas in the juicer.