Quelling Our Inner Monkey

By Laura Melton Tucker, January 7th, 2010

Listen to this entry.

My yoga instructor told me on a recent morning: “unlearn the discord in your body…let it go…replace it with the space you are making.”  Dripping wet from the heat of the yoga room, bent and twisted in eagle pose, fighting for balance and deeper flexion, I got it; I heard what he was telling me.  Eagle pose forces new angles in my body.  When I squat  with my legs folded and tucked and my arms interlaced, my back and shoulders stretch open.  The unnatural and demanding posture, which I can only hold for a minute, helps me to unlearn the hunching of my shoulders at the computer, the bending of my spine over desktops and kitchen counters and steering wheels.  The space that  I find in my body after a session on the yoga mat helps me to unlearn the habits of body and mind that I bring into the yoga room.  When unlearning creates space for something new that serves us better, we get ourselves unstuck.  This is true, as well, at the mediation table.  Unlearning patterns of interaction, finding new space and letting go, can be the reward of a transformative mediation process. To illustrate this point, I offer the parable of the monkey and the coconut:

In Africa, the story goes, hunters trap monkeys by hanging coconuts from tree branches.  It is not the coconut that attracts the monkey.  Rather, it is the hole that the hunter has carved in the coconut that reveals a bright and shiny object inside.  The hole is large enough for the monkey’s hand, but when the monkey grasps the object, the hole is too small to release his balled fist.  The monkey must make a decision.  Let go of the shiny object and be free, or continue to hold onto the object and remain stuck.  The trap, according to the story, works every time.  The  curious monkeys are loathe to let go.  They are victims of their desire  for the irresistible, shiny thing. This parable challenges us to consider if we are like the grasping monkey.

Often during a mediation one or both parties at the table have something they need to let go of before they can shift the dialogue and move in a new direction. To continue the metaphor, they need to touch the shiny object before they can leave it behind.  This might mean giving voice to a frustration or hurt, putting it on record, looking at it in the presence of the other person, and then letting it go.   Other times, letting go isn’t possible.  I have seen two hour conversations over a multi- thousand dollar claim grind to a halt over a difference of $75.  Why?  In one case it was because one side couldn’t let go of a need for an apology, and the other side believed that an apology would undermine his integrity.   In other mediations, I have witnessed the parties move forward by agreeing to a settlement where one side is required by the other to leave shiny objects inside the coconut.   I don’t always understand a person’s decision to let go, but sometimes I believe it is based on  a choice to move forward with closure.  As long as I have helped each side to hear and be heard, to sort and clarify and order their thoughts through the mediation process,  I am satisfied that I have served my role.  What they leave behind and what they take with them is their choice.

The monkey parable takeaway reveals itself at the mediation table.  Unlearning patterns of discord is one of the  benefits of mediation. Sitting at a table and talking through problems, growing “calmer, clearer, more confident, more organized and more decisive,”(p. 85, The Promise of Mediation, Bush and Folger) is the reward of the mediating parties’ hard work.  Letting go and finding space to move forward, when it’s time, can set us free.

2 Responses

  • Leah Badertscher says:

    I’m searching for a phrase or mantra that will capture my intention for 2010…”unlearning patterns of discord” is a strong contender – definitely in meaning if not that sort of sing-song affirmative catchiness that my monkey mind seems to need! What a great piece, Laura. Your first paragraph had me pining for a wonderful hot yoga class and the rest had me wishing you’d come mediate some of my conflicts (mostly the ones between me and myself). I also enjoyed the improv article – bravo!

    • Leah, thank you for your kind words. Isn’t it funny that we hear what we hear when we need to hear it? That day in class I was electrified by the realization that unlearning can be as important as learning. I began my list of things to unlearn at that moment, AND I left class with the seed of an idea for this blog entry…(always a good day when that happens!)

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