hat do monkeys and bananas have to do with everlasting peace and ease that is the goal of yoga? Actually, everything.
Let me explain.
In India and in many other Asian countries, monkeys are caught using an ingenious trap consisting of a small cage with a hole in its side.
The cage itself is too small for a monkey, but just the right size for a banana. The hole in the side of the cage is barely large enough for the monkey to get his hand through and take hold of the banana. And most importantly, the hole, while large enough for the monkey’s hand, isn’t large enough for a monkey’s hand while holding a banana.
Get the picture?
The trap works like this: Monkey catchers hang these banana-filled traps all through the forest and when an unsuspecting monkey comes upon the trap, he sees the banana and of course thinks, “Hey look, free banana.”
The hungry monkey then sticks his hand through the hole in the trap and grabs the banana. Now because the hole in the cage is too small for the monkey’s hand and the banana, and because the monkey is unwilling to let go of his free banana, the monkey finds himself stuck.
Sometime later, the monkey catcher comes along to check his traps and seeing the monkey unable to free himself thinks, “Hey look, free monkey.” He then walks up and collects his new monkey, who though terrified, remains steadfastly gripping his banana.
Pretty cool, huh? And it is, unless you’re the monkey.
We might find ourselves amused by the monkey’s stubbornness and stupidity. From our perspective, his guaranteed freedom can be had so easily: simply let go of the banana that retails for a measly 23 cents.
Yet of course from the monkey’s perspective, things are not so simple, for he has failed to make the connection between his grasping of the banana and being caught.
The relationship between his unwillingness to let go (of the banana) and his suffering (the loss of his freedom) remains outside of his awareness. If only he could realize that this unconscious grasping will end up causing him a life of involuntary servitude collecting coins from tourists while garbed in a red suit and hat and prancing to cheesy organ music, perhaps he’d let go. But alas he fails to make the connection; he fails to perceive the exorbitant cost of that banana. Poor monkey.
Yet I’ll say the same to each and every one of us: poor monkey.
For we all have bananas in our lives, bananas to which we stubbornly and desperately cling—a clinging that exacts a tremendous cost to our happiness and peace.
Our modern-day bananas, of course, don’t necessarily look like bananas, and our traps don’t usually look like cages, yet the net effect is the same.
Perhaps I’m doggedly holding onto an idealized belief of how my body should look; maybe I’m hanging onto a romanticized idea of what I should be accomplishing in life; possibly I clutch a naïve notion of how the world should be.
In each of these cases, I suffer, and not because of how things are, but because of how I think things should be. I likely miss the source of my suffering, of my dis-ease, blaming it on my body, my career path, or the conflict in the world, when in reality it’s my clinging to my thoughts, beliefs, and opinions.
It’s my gripping of the banana that’s the real culprit here.
Making matters worse, it’s not only with the larger issues in life that this grasping is at work, it permeates nearly all aspects of day-to-day living.
Rush hour traffic is a perfect example: Imagine yourself sitting on the freeway on your way home. The traffic which usually moves at 70 mph on this stretch of road is now moving at 14 mph. And as a result (or so it seems), you’re feeling a bit peeved. At first blush, it seems that your suffering derives from the traffic, but when we look a bit closer, something else is revealed. Namely, moving at 14 mph is not a problem: we drive 14 mph or slower in school zones, parking lots, and driveways all the time and that doesn’t seem to send us off the deep end. So, if driving 14 mph isn’t the problem what is?
Its root lies again with our grasping of a banana—the banana of expectation.
Specifically, the problem has to do with the discrepancy between what we are doing and what we think we should be doing. In other words, the expectation that we inject into our experience gives rise to frustration.
Driving at 14 mph only becomes problematic when we cling to our banana of belief, the one that insists that we should be driving 70 mph, 40 mph, or at any speed other than the one we’re going.
This banana of expectation is at the root of virtually all of our frustration in life. And by seeing the truth of this, we have forged a new opportunity to let go and have our experience instantly transformed.
Yet unfortunately, like the monkey, most of us remain entirely ignorant of the connection between our gripping and the high toll it takes on our happiness. Instead of letting go of our bananas, we fight with reality. We unconsciously hold on to an arbitrary and changeable expectation while stubbornly wrestling with the one thing that can never be any different than the way it is: this moment.
Thus, our simian friends have a powerful lesson for us all. Continue to grasp our bananas of expectation and pay a hefty price; stubbornly cling to our ideas of how things should be while rejecting how they are, and we’ll suffer.
The monkey in his predicament has a choice—though for him it’s not perceived; we too, in our lives have a choice, and the invitation here is to become aware of that choice, and perhaps experiment with what it is to let go of our banana-du-jour and instantly be released into freedom and ease.
So perhaps it’s wise to take an inventory; to catalog all of the bananas that we are unconsciously gripping in our lives—and to consider the toll that we are paying as a result.
Reflect on what your life might be like with less gripping and more relaxing. And the next time you find yourself in a situation in your life that is giving rise to anxiety, stress, or anger. Stop, take a breath, and give yourself a moment to become aware of your expectation. Notice how it is putting you in conflict with your life, feel how your grasping is adding to the negative experience, and then set it free.
In other words, make your banana split. Get it?
Blessings to all,
Eric Walrabenstein is a best-selling author, the founder of Yoga Pura in Phoenix, Arizona, and the creator of the BOOTSTRAP yoga program for craving & addiction. Learn more at www.bootstraprecovery.com.