I’ve read this fable in several different forms.  Sometimes it originates in South America, sometimes Africa, sometimes India.  I was struck by this story because it seems like often people’s issues have to do with holding on so tight to a comfortable situation or idea that there is so much opportunity missed.

The Monkey’s Dilemma
Long ago, in the dark jungles of South America, a clever old tribesman experimented with new methods of trapping monkeys. Because the tribe had only blowguns and tiny bows with which to hunt, monkeys were rarely taken, and monkey meat was greatly prized by the villagers. The clever hunter decided, first, to lure monkeys to a clearing where the hunter could fell them with a well placed blow dart.
From past experience, the hunter knew that monkeys were remarkably fond of peanuts, so he brought a small pile of peanuts and placed it in the center of the clearing. After many hours of waiting, a monkey finally broke from the cover of the trees, grabbed the pile of peanuts and raced off into the woods before the hunter could shoot. The hunter disappointed, returned to his village and began pondering ways to get the monkey to linger in the clearing for a moment or two; just long enough to give the hunter a chance to aim and shoot.
The next day, the hunter returned to the clearing with a knife and an awl. He found the largest tree bordering the clearing and carved a hole deep into the trunk. When he finally completed his task, the hole extended several inches into the tree trunk, then opened up into a small cavity that would hold the peanuts. The hunter’s hand was too big to reach in, so he pushed a handful of peanuts into the hole with a stick and retreated behind some bushes to await his prey. Sometime later, the aroma of the peanuts was too much for a passing monkey to bear. The monkey jumped into the clearing and raced over to the tree. Without pause, he slipped his hand into the hole and seized the peanuts. The hunter steadied his shot, but then hesitated when the monkey simply stood before the tree trunk, apparently stuck. When the monkey pulled and jerked violently on his arm, it became clear to the hunter how the monkey must have become stuck. While the hole in the tree trunk was big enough for the monkey to slip his empty hand in, it wasn’t wide enough for the monkey to remove a fist—full of peanuts. The monkey was unwilling to let go of his handful of peanuts, but unless he did, he would never be able to get his hand out of the hole in the tree.
The hunter watched in amazement and decided not to kill the monkey right away. Instead, his uncommon curiosity took hold and he decided to see just how stubbornly the monkey would hold on to those peanuts. So, the hunter set down his blowgun and stepped out of his brush blind and into the clearing. The monkey immediately saw the hunter and went berserk with panic. He screeched and yanked on his arm all the more furiously, but still refused to free his grip on the peanuts. The hunter took one step toward the monkey and then another. The closer the hunter stepped, the more frantic the monkey became. His screeches were almost unbearable. At last, the hunter stood just out of arm’s reach of the monkey, and yet the monkey refused to release the handful of peanuts. All around the tree, the ground was torn and tossed due to the monkeys maniacal flailing. And yet, the monkey would not to let go of the peanuts. Like the winds of a spent hurricane, the monkey eventually tired and his panic subsided. As the hunter sat nearby, the monkey stared at him with a look of sullen surrender. The hunter began to wonder, ”What would it take to get this monkey to release his grip on the peanuts and free himself?” He was sure that the monkey could get loose if only he would let go of the peanuts and withdraw his hand.
The hunter decided to test the monkeys stubborn commitment to the peanuts, so he brought over another pile of peanuts and placed them just out of reach of the monkey. At first, the monkey made no attempt to grab the peanuts, as he was still terrified by the presence of the hunter. But, after a while, the monkey started straining, pulling at his arm and reaching for the new pile of peanuts. But, never did the monkey allow his grip on the peanuts in the hole to loosen. He held them ever tighter as he pulled to wrench free.
As dusk approached, the hunter knew that he must soon return to his village. After watching the pathetic monkey for hours, the hunter had become somewhat sickened by the monkey’s self-destructive and foolish behavior. The will to kill the monkey had gone out of the hunter; but he could do nothing to release the monkey from his grip on the peanuts. If he approached the monkey too closely, the monkey would surely scratch and bite him in fear. And, even if he could get close enough, there was no way
to release the monkeys grip and remove his arm. Disgusted and at his wit’s end, the hunter walked home in the failing light.
For a several days, the hunter dreamed of ways to free the monkey from the peanut trap. He hoped that the monkey might fall asleep and unwittingly free himself. If not, the hunter might have to try drastic measures.
Several days later, the hunter entered the clearing to find the monkey, tired and defeated, still locked on to the peanuts in the hole of the tree trunk. The monkey had become gaunt and the hunter could see him deteriorating physically. The monkey looked at the hunter with despondent resignation, but never did the monkey seem to consider the possibility of releasing the peanuts.
The monkey dangled from his worn and bleeding arm, obviously ailing from the strain of capture. The hunter wondered about the monkey’s fist and the peanuts buried in the hole. After days in the tree trunk and with the humid heat of the jungle, the hunter imagined the once-—fresh peanuts
slowly growing mold and spoiling in the monkey’s sweaty grip. The hunter pictured the open sores and wounds that the monkey had, no doubt, inflicted on his arm and hand as he had struggled to get free the day before.
The hunter walked to a place just beyond the monkey’s reach and opened up a huge basket he had prepared that morning before departing the village. One item at a time, the hunter pulled out delicious, steaming dishes of rice, meat and fruit. He removed gourds filled with pure spring water and bowls with piping hot tea. The hunter laid them all out on the forest floor, like a delicious holiday banquet. The monkey watched the exquisite meal unfold with rapt attention. It was plain to see that the monkey was very hungry and thirsty and he wanted nothing in the world more than to dive into the feast except, he refused to release his moldy peanuts, even for an instant.
When the meal was completely set, the hunter slowly began to eat it himself. The monkey sat back on his haunches and whined a high pitched mewling of misery. But, nothing about the feast, or hunter eating it, could convince the monkey to release the peanuts. It was almost as if the monkey had forgotten why or what he was holding within the tree trunk., but he remained committed nonetheless.
Several days later the hunter once again passed by the monkey trap, hoping that somehow the monkey had freed himself. He was saddened to find the lifeless body of the monkey lying next to the trunk, its hand finally freed from the enslaving hole.
Next to his outstretched arm lay the three moldy peanuts.
– Author Unknown

In therapy I admit I use quotes, stories and even clichés a lot to explain a concept or idea.  However, when I use this story I often get a blank look like it doesn’t resonate so I figured I’d just share it here.
I think fear of the unknown, fear of not making it, fear of not being safe and a hundred other fears brings many people to a dead stop.  People might not grab opportunities or move out of a unhealthy relationship because at least it is comfortable and safe.
I like the part of this version of the story that talks about reaching for other peanuts without letting go of the first peanuts.  Sometimes it is not possible to move ahead and get where we want to be without letting go of something else.  Trying to keep what we already have can hinder us and not allow us to fully commit to our next step.  Hedging our bets can sometimes cause more problems rather than move a person forward. 

As much as I believe people need to learn to recognize and hear their inner voices, sometimes everyone in our lives are pointing us in the right direction and we’re just not listening.  People we love or care about are practically putting up a neon sign saying “GO THIS WAY” and we are so afraid to let go of something we pass the signs up like the monkey ignores all of the hunter’s attempts to free himself.

What about this story resonated with you?  What are you struggling to let go of so you can move forward?

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