The Monkey Trap: Reflecting on the New Year

The tale of how to catch a monkey can be found in many works including mindfulness guru John Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Life and American philosopher Robert M. Pirsig’s work Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. And although the details sometimes vary, the moral remains the same. You catch a monkey by carving a small hole in a tree trunk or a coconut tied to a rope. The hole is just big enough for the monkey to reach his hand in and grasp the bait inside (e.g. peanuts, a banana, something shiny). However, with his fist clenched around his prize, he is unable to get his hand back out. The monkey is therefore trapped. The monkey will not let go of its prize even though, in more dramatic tellings of this story, the monkey dies with fist tight upon the bait.

This story is told as a metaphor for self reflection and change. What is the bait that we have so tightly clenched in our fists that we are keeping ourselves trapped? Is it a bad habit, a negative behavior, or a toxic relationship?

The New Year brings a time for self reflection as well. This is a time we can evaluate our goals, our aspirations, and evaluate what, like the monkey, is holding us back from them. So take this time to ask yourself if there is anything that you need to let go of in order to progress towards a more content version of yourself.

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