Escape the Grip of Unhappiness

If you find yourself stuck in a tough situation, there's a proven method for breaking free.

How do you know if you're caught in a situation akin to the "Monkey Trap" of unhappiness? For instance, you might feel trapped in your job, a relationship, or in the grasp of an addiction of some sort.

Let's unravel the Monkey Trap. But when it comes to recognizing being stuck, visual examples can be helpful. If you're feeling restricted, self-centered, and internally tangled, that might indicate you're ensnared in a trap!

However, you can break free from that daunting trap.

The real question is: When we feel confined and trapped, how can we let go and release ourselves from whatever holds us tightly?

It's not an easy task, but research from interventions like Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention offers hope for escaping such traps.

For instance, studies indicate that self-monitoring of negative emotions and cravings can serve as an interrupter, breaking the cycle of desire and actually rewiring the brain's response and behavior in the moment.

The Monkey Trap

The Monkey Trap is based on a story I once read about how hunters employed a clever method for capturing monkeys. They used a hollowed-out gourd fixed to the ground, baited with food. With an opening just big enough for the monkey's hand to reach in and grab the food, it made for a cunning trap.

Once the monkey grasps the food with a clenched fist, its hand becomes too large to pull out. Even though the monkey could free itself by letting go of the food and pulling its hand out, the strong grip of attachment, greed, and craving for the food keeps the hand clenched. The monkey is trapped by its own reluctance to let go!

This serves as a powerful metaphor for our own feelings of being stuck, whether it's due to strongly held beliefs, rigid thoughts, or desires that keep us immobile. Alongside feeling trapped, we may also experience feelings of helplessness and sadness.

Fortunately, you can learn what a monkey trapped in a snare doesn't know:

The key to freeing yourself from almost any unhappiness trap, addiction, or rigid belief system is simply learning to let go.

The Monkey Trap Meditation for letting go is excerpted from my book "The Mindfulness Toolbox," which includes many other reflections and practices.

Escape the Monkey Trap Reflection

Pre-meditation questions: Everyone deals with some sort of monkey trap in their life. The first step is becoming aware of the trap (which the monkey couldn't do) to break free. Which situations make you feel trapped, unhappy, anxious, depressed, or stressed out?

Remember that any areas of fixation for perfectionism or fear of failure are traps that cause immense pain. On a piece of paper, jot down a few of your "traps."

Next, ask yourself, "How strongly does this thought or belief hold onto me, my mind, and my emotions?" You might rate this on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being no grip on you, and 7 representing a "super glue" hold. Don't judge yourself. Accept that you are simply making observations and learning about yourself—without shame or blame.

Now, let's proceed with the Monkey Trap Reflection:

Find a quiet and peaceful spot. Sit in a chair, maintaining an erect yet relaxed posture.

Visualize your "monkey trap" or the source of that anxiety or discomfort as being contained in that gourd that traps monkeys. Now, imagine extending your arm and barely slipping your hand through the gourd's narrow opening to grab onto whatever you feel is absolutely necessary to have. Notice how this is essentially a form of grasping, attachment, and craving.

As you wait, pay attention to how firmly you grasp onto what you desire. Feel how tight and painful it is to hold on this way. Keep holding and feeling the sensation that arises from this kind of grasping and holding onto something so tightly.

Now, gradually allow yourself to let go of the craving, to release that thought or belief that you felt you absolutely had to possess. What would be so terribly wrong about letting it go? Could you survive? Could you have other options in life? Notice how the craving can be so narrow, limiting, and overwhelming that it can cause us to overlook other possibilities! As you release the craving, or monkey trap that holds you, simultaneously release the tension in your grip.

Spent at least two minutes slowly allowing yourself to release and let go of this craving. You could tell yourself, "Right now, I can relax my mind, relax my hand, and relax my need to grasp onto the craving." Slowly unclench your fist. Feel the blood returning to your hand. Notice how your hand has freedom of movement. Notice the relief that comes from letting go. Now, slowly withdraw your hand from the "monkey trap" and leave behind your craving for the moment. Shake your hand and fingers for a few moments, relishing the freedom of full movement that they now enjoy.


Congratulations on discovering this new approach to letting go! "How's it been going for you?" How much did this reflection alter your perception of your craving or decrease how tightly you're holding onto your "Monkey Trap"?

Use this simple meditation daily, or whenever you need help dealing with feelings or beliefs that constrict you and keep you clenched and tense.

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