My Special Place is the Texture of a Banana Leaf


When I was 20 in the early 90’s, I joined a yoga class at the University of Guelph. This was before yoga mats or Lululemon. We brought towels into a lecture hall, and stretched them out on the carpeted floor in the evening. The instructor was in her late 70’s and had a thick but calm German accent. She would turn the lights off, and ignite some Nag Champa incense, making the air smell like a vegan coffee shop.

One evening, she told the story about the monk and the banana leaf. It goes something like this.

A monk arrives at the monastary. He was the new guy, so they had to put him through his paces. Sorta like hazing, I guess… But in a more monkly manner.

They tell him that he has to do the dishes for every meal. This was a particular bummer for the monk, as -back in those days- there was no running water, steel wool, or dish soap. Instead, he had to make a fire, boil water, use ash as soap and a banana leaf as a dish rag. For every single meal. For everyone.

To make things worse, if the monk were at my monastery with my monk friends, we would have probably made up a nickname for him, like “Soapy” or “Dishes”, but that’s an aside.

Anyways, a whole bunch of time goes by where the monk really hates doing the dishes. He thinks it’s unfair, and boring. Every time he does the dishes, he keeps thinking about getting it over with, so he can drink tea with the other monks.

Then one day, probably after a year or 2, he notices that the banana leaf has this really cool texture, and that the water is really nice and the ash has an abrasive quality which works really well for scraping the food off the dishes. He notices that the dishes themselves are all different, as they were each handmade, and they make these beautiful sounds when they touch each other. He sinks into all these textures, sounds, smells, and forgets about getting-the-task-completed-so-he-can-have-some-tea.

I don’t exactly remember the punchline, or what exactly happens next. But, I think the head monk tells Soapy that he doesn’t have to do dishes anymore, because he’s finally figured out what this exercise is all about. I’m not sure how this conversation comes about, and whether the head monk just notices something new about Soapy, or whether Soapy comes running in and tells all the other monks: “Hey guys, I got it! I figured it out”, then they all high-five him.

The point is, Soapy finally lived in the moment, which is all we really have as humans.

I was going to write this as a LinkedIn article, but then I realized that these social networks are over-saturated with this type of inspirational finery.

This story resonated more with me, as a parent, than as a businessperson.

How many times have we been steamrolled with the day-to-day tasks of parenting, and we’ve lost ourselves in wishing it all away to that future cup of tea

But, when you pause for a second to think about what we’re doing, it’s ludicrous. We’re wishing our children away, essentially, in this world that is only filled with a certain, finite number of moments. So, even when you are elbows deep in an ash-filled tepid sink of water, with nothing but a banana leaf to finish the task at hand, remember to pause. And enjoy it.

It’s the biggest cliché of parenting, because it’s the ultimate truth: They grow up so damned fast. We all do. The late Steve Jobs would trade his entire career and fortune to be where you are right now, banana leaves, ashes and all.

  • Lynn

    Loved this Brad – will be keeping an eye out for my own banana leaves in the future.

    • Brad Stewart

      Thanks Lynn! Really appreciate the comments.

  • Jay @ Assholes Watching Movies

    A “more monkly manner” – pretty genius line.

    • Brad Stewart

      Rolls off the tongue better than “monkish”, don’t you think? 😉