The monkey-catcher’s lesson: Why we get trapped inside jobs, situations, emotions…

Picture for editorial comment

Do you know how monkeys are caught in the wild?

Technicalities apart, it is a small pile of peanuts on the other side of a barrier through which the monkey can easily slide its hand in, to grab the peanuts. However, the same opening through which the hand easily slid in, is now too small for the hand to slide out, because now the monkey has a clenched fist full of peanuts.

To escape being trapped, all the monkey has to do is to LET GO of the peanuts. But it doesn’t, and suffers a life of confinement, when freedom was all about his choice.

Long ago when someone told me this story, and I was struck by the irony of it.

Aren’t we all like that monkey at some or the other point in our lives?

Living life with this gnawing sense of feeling trapped and confined inside our own life or job or an emotion or a situation?

But why do we do that?

Sticking to a job that is clearly not making us feel alive anymore — because “many others will kill to be in our shoes”, “because we are ungrateful to let go of this”, “because this gives us social status” — even though none of these may mean anything to us — we hold on to the peanuts.

Sticking to an emotion that is clearly eating us up, and not enriching us. Why be consumed by anger and jealousy? Why hold a grudge, hurt people (many who love us), put people down, bad-mouth them, wish them ill? Could be a family member, friend, colleague… what do we get in return? A temporary satisfaction to ego, which is never permanently satisfied anyways? We willingly trap ourselves in these emotions that confine us and those who love us, in return for what? The peanut called ego-satisfaction?

We often try and get rid of people we think are “responsible” for this. Ironically, it is our own mental mode that we need to get rid of. That is the real trap.

I had this phase where I was consumed with contempt for someone in the family. Now that’s a tough one to deal with — and one might say you have no choice — you can’t choose family. Things were so bad that I could not tolerate being within 2 meters of radius with that person. Complete difference of opinion and perspectives.

It has been documented that of all emotions, contempt is the toughest to recover from. Contempt comes from a sense of moral superiority and the inability to change another person. But I did recover, and I was the one feeling that contempt.

The first thing I realised, that over several painful interactions and feeling of utter contempt, I was living in a personal hell of my own creation. I also realised in saner moments that, having a feeling like that reduces human interactions to only one possibility and outcome. I kept trying to change the other person’s behavior, but only kept running into a brick wall.

And what was I getting in return? A constant state of unrest. Rotten peanuts.

I changed myself. It took time. But I did it. I tried seeing what was good in that person.

For the first time ever I tried seeing things from the other person’s perspective

It is possible to recover from even something like contempt with some form of love, empathy, trying to acknowledge that every person is capable of some goodness.

I still don’t agree on many fundamental things with this person, but we can co-exist. And I feel at peace. I set myself free. I let go of the peanuts.

The reason we continue this way all our lives, is because we never stop to think and reflect about our lives.

  1. Being aware that we have allowed ourselves into a trap
  2. Listing what we are getting out of being in that trap
  3. Knowing that the choice always rests with us to set ourselves free — it is sometimes a difficult choice, but there always is a choice

There are many recipes for happiness doing the rounds. Of many things that happiness is, I think it is about having a light heart. And one key ingredient of that could be setting oneself free from things that hold us back, and hold us down.

We always are asked to count our blessings. We should do that, I find it a very meaningful thing to do.

But while we are at it, maybe we can spend a few moments counting the peanuts we have signed up for in life!