Not my circus. Not my monkeys.
Over the past year, I have become aware of a phrase that have given me much peace. Purportedly a Polish Proverb (although I can't seem to find any evidence other than people on the internet saying it's "An Old Polish Proverb"...), this phrase is simple: Not my circus. Not my monkeys.
Two sentences. Much Peace.
I've come to embrace this phrase in my daily living and in my life as a pastor. When the chaos of the world is going on around me, when people try to pull me into their anxiety and problems or make their anxiety my own, I repeat to myself, "Not my circus. Not my monkeys." Remembering these simple words helps me to remain calm, self-differentiated, and a non-anxious presence. It helps me recognize that, while I can have compassion and care for someone in their problems and in their struggles...their problems and their struggles are not my own. I don't need to take them on as my own. I don't need to own them or allow them to affect my life.
Having said that...
I had a dream.
I know, that's one of those things that people hate to hear someone say, because usually what will follow is nonsensical and meaningless...but bear with me. This one kinda makes sense.
It was the night before a difficult meeting, one where I knew we would be discussing difficult things that have been the root of a great deal of conflict.. I went to bed, stressing out over the issues and topics we would be discussing, and praying for wisdom and discernment and, yes, patience.
I tossed and turned most of the night, but when I did start to dream, I dreamt about gorillas in my garden.
In my dream, my neighbors had pet gorillas. They kept them in their backyard, which is only separated from my backyard by a simple chain-link fence. The gorillas were there, day in and day out, and minded their own business. And then, one day, they started intimidating us whenever we would be out in our backyard. They would swing at us, keeping us away from the fence, which we figured was just a territorial/keeping us away from their yard kind of thing.
And then they jumped the fence and came into our yard, forcing us inside of our house. From my window, I could see one of the gorillas pick up a big rock that we had pulled out of our garden that we're creating, and use it to kill a fawn that was in my backyard (which, in my dream logic was my pet deer) and eat it.
Next thing I knew, the gorillas had come into my house. After they had killed my deer, I was terrified of what they might do to us, so I told my spouse and child what I was going to do next: Sneak out of the house and go next door to talk to my neighbors to make them get their gorillas under control.
I snuck out of the house, so that the gorillas couldn't see me leave, and ran next door to my neighbor's house. My neighbor was on her front porch, haggard and frazzled and stressed out. She was juggling a visit from the Department of Health and Human Services who were evaluating the daycare/preschool that she was running while trying to take care of the hundreds of kittens that she had in boxes and buckets and cages for the kitten mill that she was running. (I feel like I need to make a statement here, my neighbors are nothing like this. They are nice and quiet and definitely don't have a preschool or a kitten mill at their home...).
I begged my neighbor to do something about her gorillas. Begged her to take them home and make them behave.
But she looked at me, and shrugged her shoulders, and said, "Yeah, they intimidate us, too. We don't go in the backyard anymore because of the gorillas. So, sorry. Can't do anything about them."
I woke up as I was walking home, calling animal control on my cell phone to come and get the gorillas. I was terrified that my neighbor would be mad at me for doing so, but I knew that it had to be done and if she wasn't going to do it, I needed to.
What a dream, right? I woke up, shaken and frazzled and almost looking out into the garden to see if there was a gorilla there.
Now, most of the time, my dreams are chaotic jumbles that I have a difficult time making sense of. But this dream...this dream...it made so much sense.
It was about the monkeys, other people's monkeys, and their circuses. It was about how sometimes those monkeys, when unattended and avoided, can grow into something bigger and more dangerous. It was about how sometimes, if other people refuse to deal with their monkeys turned gorillas, they can start to have an impact on my life, even despite my own best efforts to the contrary. It was about how sometimes, in order to take care of myself, I need to do what I need to do regarding those gorillas.
The truth is that sometimes, people are so overwhelmed by their troubles or their problems or their anxieties that they simply don't know how to manage them, or even where to begin. Sometimes people have such bad boundaries that they spill their anxiety and their stress out into the world around them, and it starts to affect the people around them, without them even knowing it. And sometimes people have an attitude that "someone else will take care of it."
Whatever it is, when your neighbor's gorillas come into your garden, when they come into your home...when they start to affect your life and your family and your well-being, the truth is that you have to do something about it.
The question is: what is the responsible way to manage it? I think that it's really dependent on the situation. You want to avoid being an enabler, but you also need to make sure that you are assisting where assistance is truly needed. Whatever is done needs to be empowering to the owner of the gorillas, giving them the strength and the courage and the tools to manage or handle them. It needs to be done with grace and dignity, so that the person is not diminished by the action. But, most of all, it needs to be done, before the gorillas destroy their life and yours.
So, whether it is direct action, a "come to Jesus moment", an intervention, or something else entirely, I pray that you may find the wisdom and the courage to address the gorillas that have come into your garden (and the wisdom and the sight to see any monkeys in your own life, and deal with them before they become gorillas themselves).