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The Monkey Trap

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

Is there any doubt that we're in a mess - all together and individually? Disunity, disease, poverty, fear and hatred. These are the order of the day. There is an epidemic of stress fueled by anxiety. With so much at stake and so much uncertainty about the future, is it any wonder? These big events are so overwhelming, what can we do?

Maybe we can't change the world, but we can change ourselves. The first step is self-care. Exercise, being careful about what we eat, meditation, martial arts, volunteering all are rightly touted stress reducing activities. Yet we bring our habits with us to the table, the gym, dojo and so on. Sometimes it all seems futile. As we begin any activity, so we be begin all activities.

In his book Freedom To Change, Frank Pierce Jones wrote about something he called "The Monkey Trap:"

"It is said that a simple way to trap a monkey is to present him with a nut in a bottle. The monkey puts his paw though the bottle's narrow mouth, grasps the nut, then cannot withdraw his paw because he will not (and hence cannot) let go of the nut. Most people are caught in traps of unconscious habit."

Now what?

First we have to understand that our thinking, our emotional states are all taking place in our bodies. They are one thing. Our mental state, our emotions and the condition of our bodies are in fact, one condition. Thoughts. Emotions. These are all events that take place within the container of the body. They are interconnected, each informing and influencing the others like a web. As our investment in these emotional states increases, so does our stress. Most of the time, our response to such adversity is to "try harder", yet the more effort we add the tighter knots the web. Most unfortunate of all is that usually, we don't even know it's happening. We need to do something different.

So knowing that, how do we let go of the nut?

Well the obvious place to start is with the body. The very first thing we need to do is to relax, everyone says so. But how do we do that without giving up, collapsing in resignation? So how to relax, then? Knowledge is power, so we examine what's going on in our body right now. What do we notice? Take a moment, sense what's happening within you, right now. Chances are you'll receive a message from your body indicting discomfort - tension, or even pain. This is true for everybody, it's part of how we're built. And if we examine further, we're likely to notice more tension or discomfort. Tension causes us to think about tension, engendering a reaction that increases our distress and discomfort. We're in the monkey trap. What's the alternative? Clearly we have to "let go of the nut", but what does that really mean?

Say for example, my shoulder is tense. If I am aware of that fact, then it follows there must some other place in my body that feels less tense in comparison. If so, where might that be? What happens if I direct my attention to that place? What's happening there? How does it feel? Bringing a sense of curiosity and openness to that awareness without effort, can bring about a positive change. An increasing sense of ease, just as fretting about stress brings on more stress. The key is to take it lightly, and trust that the body has the wisdom to move in the direction of ease, if we allow it. The good news is that we have a choice. We decide where we place our attention.

"Paying attention to tension creates more tension. Paying attention to ease, creates more ease." -Mio Morales

So be easy with yourself.

Contact me if this makes sense to you and you want to explore further.

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