Letting go of what’s trapping you
As a therapist, I love using metaphors and story-telling as means of connecting with individuals and helping them step outside of themselves to look at an issue in a way that resonates with them. Sometimes we are so immersed in a pattern of thinking, feeling, or behaving that our mind is both literally and figuratively programmed to be stuck. Thinking about our way of being in the world in a bigger picture sense – through stories that we can grasp – can sometimes shake us up just enough to be able to see our way out of our mental traps. Stories are, in fact, how humans learn at the most basic and primitive levels. (Um, I think I learned everything there is to know about manners and sibling relationships from the Berenstain Bears series…)
Today I want to share with you one of my favorite allegories (okay, yes, I just like to use that word – I was once an English major, okay?). I find that it resonates with many of us who find ourselves working so hard and ending up in the same place – trapped in our own patterns.
In certain regions, such as in Southeast Asia, monkeys are considered to be pests, as they tend to create a great deal havoc in towns. Hunters in these areas are paid large sums to rid the towns of these bothersome monkeys, and they have discovered a rather simple way to capture the monkeys – one that ingeniously, though sadly, uses the monkey against himself.
What the hunters do is take a coconut and make a small hole, one just large enough for the monkey’s hand to go straight inside. They then use the monkey’s favorite – nuts – and put a small handful inside the hallowed-out coconut. They then tie the coconut to a tree and wait patiently for the monkey to arrive, surely smiling to themselves and confident that the next monkey will face the same fate as the hundreds that went before him.
Expectedly, the monkey notices the coconut and sticks his hand in the hole to retrieve the delicious nuts. To his dismay, the monkey’s clenched fist cannot exit the hole. He tries and tries to pull his fist from the hole, becoming desperate and frightened. The monkey holds on so tightly to his nuts that it’s impossible for him to see how this is fact the one thing that is preventing him from achieving freedom. It is his own rigidity, his own desperate clinging to the nuts, that thwarts his escape.
This monkey, like many who have gone before him, starts screaming and continue to try to pull his arm violently out of the coconut while his hand remains clenched, causing even more pain and suffering. Eventually tired and worn out from the struggle, the monkey simply surrenders to his fate and awaits certain capture. In doing so, the monkey ironically loosens his grip on the nuts and amazingly discovers that he is free once he stops trying so hard to be free.
I love this story because so many of us unknowingly cling to our own “nuts”, holding on so tightly to our habits, our patterns, our distorted and negative thinking. And we do it out of fear. Ironically though, just like the monkey trap, the fear and panic does not nothing but reinforce our grip on things that aren’t working and keeps us trapped in a life that is unfulfilling. Some of us hold on to old stories we have tethered ourselves to. Some to diets that we are convinced are the answer. Some to comfortable but destructive ways of looking at ourselves and our relationships. But no matter what we’re clinging to, we cannot achieve freedom unless we are able to learn to let go.
Today, consider what you are holding on to that is keeping you trapped AND what’s preventing you from letting it go.