The monkey trap

Anything that you have to control, controls you.
Guy Finley
1949 –

There are many variations to this story, but it’s quite instructive. In South America, Africa and Asia, the natives have devised a very effective method of trapping monkeys. The plan is deceptively simple: the natives take a gourd or some similar object and drill a hole just large enough for a monkey’s hand to pass through; they add some extra weight to the gourd with sand or pebbles, then put a nut or some fruit inside and place the gourd where a monkey will find it.

Here’s what happens: the monkey sticks his hand through the hole to get the food — but with the prize in its grasp, the monkey cannot get its hand back out. The hole is too small for the monkey’s hand to pass through so long as it’s holding the treat, and the gourd is too heavy for the creature to carry. Because the monkey will not let go of its prize, it becomes trapped. The animal gives up its freedom to hold on to a small piece of food.

It seems obvious that all the monkey needs to do is let go of the bait and it can escape. But because it views the treat as its possession and is not willing to let go, the monkey is trapped. It loses its freedom.

It’s easy for us to see how foolish it is to keep holding something that really isn’t worth much. The monkey is making a very poor trade-off: his freedom for a prize that wouldn’t be that difficult to find in a less threatening location. But the animal is blinded by its attachment to the treat.

The monkey is acting out of instinct; it probably doesn’t have the ability to recognize the danger of grasping the bait — or the fact that such behavior will have a dramatic impact on its future. But humans should be able to avoid falling into such a trap. We should be able to understand the danger of holding on to things that don’t serve us well. We should realize when we’re creating traps for ourselves.

Unfortunately, most of the traps in life are those we create for ourselves. We hold on for dear life to things that don’t serve us well. We hold on to past mistakes; we cling to the privilege of being right; we won’t let go of anger and resentment; we become attached to material things that are of little value; and we often put our attachment to possessions ahead of our own well-being.

If you’re going to find happiness in life, you need to examine what you hold. Take a close look at the attachments in your life. Do you place more importance on things outside of yourself than on things inside you? The more important something is in your life, the more you become attached to it. If what you treasure is outside yourself — that is, other things or other people — then you risk being trapped by those bonds.

You have the ability to choose your treasures in life. You need to examine your life to determine if you’re being trapped by the things you treasure.

If we’re attached to things, we are restricted. Only by letting go can we be free.

Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached.
Simone Weil
1909 – 1943

Copyright © 2012 John Chancellor


The monkey trap — 4 Comments

  1. lesson is lesson.
    But i still doubt the story.I have searched many websites(and this is why i came to your blog),but still can’t find some plausible evidence.