There is an old fable, shared by author Robert Pirsig, about hunters in South East India who use a clever trap to catch monkeys.
Instead of chasing monkeys up and down trees, they instead carve a hole into the trunk of a tree, and place a large nut inside the hole. Soon enough, a monkey’s curiosity will get the better of them, and they will reach inside the hole, and discover the nut.
But here is the trick of the trap: once the monkey has a hand around the nut, they cannot remove their hand from the tree trunk.
The stubborn monkey refuses to let go of the prized nut, and therefore the hunter can walk up behind the money and capture them with ease.
This story is a great metaphor for attachment in life.
All of us are holding onto things in our lives that somehow keep us trapped. Usually these are things in our past that are no longer valuable, yet we are too stubborn to let go of them. Hence we, like a stubborn monkey, remain attached and trapped.
Personally, I have done this many times in my life. I have done this with past relationships, past failures, past identities. All of which reached their expiration date long before I let them go, causing me to become trapped.
It wasn’t until I’d realize that I was holding onto something that was no longer of value that I was able to let it go.
Sometimes I had to physically make a change to let go, such as ending something. Other times I had to emotionally let go. Either way, the act of letting go was the key to me moving on to a higher level of development.
Attachment is a psychological state that causes more human suffering than almost anything else. The Dalai Lama as a great way of explaining this. “Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.”
When we attach ourselves to an ideal, an expectation or a reality that no longer exists, we become a redundant version of ourselves.
I believe that this attachment goes for setting goals as well. In my time, I’ve learned that too much attachment to any specific outcome is going to start to cause you anxiety. If you want a result too much, you tend to cause yourself not to achieve it. It’s only when you are clear on what you want, yet flexible on the outcome that goals and dreams tend to materialize.
I have noticed that the more I feel like I need a goal to materialize the more I don’t enjoy the journey. That is why I always try to make my goals about having fun, learning and enjoying the process, just as much as getting something I want.
It’s embarrassing to say, but human beings and monkeys aren’t all that different. We both have a tendency to stop ourselves from being free simply by attaching to things too much.
We can see the fallacy of the monkey trapping themselves, yet seeing the same behaviour in ourselves is harder.
The art of a balanced, relaxed approach to life can take some time to master, but it is well worth it. Finding the middle ground between desire and attachment is something that we as human beings must always be working on.
Above all, realize that at any stage, the power to let go of what is no longer valuable is in your hands.