Monkey in the Tar Trap – Allison Harris NCTMB,LMT,CD
There is a story told of a monkey who encounters a glob of tar. Curious, he picks it up, and the tar sticks to his hand. In order to free himself he uses his other hand, and consequently, both hands get stuck. This makes him angry and so he tries to use a foot to nudge the tar away and free his hands but, you guessed it, his foot gets stuck too, and then the other foot. Growing very anxious and fearful, he uses his mouth to try to chew the tar off, and finds that his mouth too, is stuck to the glob of tar that he now wishes he had never encountered, or at least, not decided to pick it up.
In the midst of labor, when sensations you have not felt before grow challenging, remember the monkey, and don’t pick up the tar trap of fear or anxiety. Take a few deep breaths and tell yourself that what you are experiencing are merely sensations. Physical sensations of the body, and cognitive sensations of the mind. Remember that the nature of all things is change, and that if you can just let go and breathe, even these challenging sensations will soon change.
Most of us prefer pleasant sensations to difficult or painful ones. We spend a great deal of time trying to avoid unpleasant sensations, and are only happy when we have escaped them, or have the hope of their cessation, and the promise of the more pleasurable ones that will replace them. Pain or pleasure, challenge or ease, these are all merely sensations, that can change any moment, according to the weather, or if we slept, if we are hungry, if we are relaxed or anxious, in other words, they are all mind states, dependent on our perspective, and the way we choose to entertain them in our heads. If you are short on funds and you sit before a can of beans for dinner, your mind will tell you how unhappy you are due to hunger, and craving something better to eat. If though, your friend walks in the door, laden with the gifts of Chinese take- out, suddenly your mind tells you that you are greatly happy. Of course we see that the change in dinner fare has allowed you to stave off momentary hunger, and to eat something that is more pleasurable than a can of beans, but what has really happened? Both your happiness and your sadness are all in your mind. If you were to take what you perceive as a meager can of beans to someone who has even less, that can of beans might change his gloomy perspective too, to one of joy. Mind states, nothing more. If you look deeper, you may find that this happy mind state is based on receiving that which was craved or desired previously, as being the object that would allow for our happiness to return. But if we choose to allow our happiness to be based upon the attainment of items we crave, we will never find true happiness, and we will always be looking to something beyond our reach to provide us liberation and joy. If you enlarge the can of beans and the Chinese food, you will find that if only you were more beautiful, if only you were younger, if only you had a nicer car, a cooler job, a bigger house, if you lived by the ocean in California instead of the inner city, and on and on it goes. Craving, desire, and sensation having taken over, and become the rulers who hold you captive, with the keys to your joy or sorrow, or a “good” life, or a “bad” life in their hands.
In the midst of labor, sensations you have not felt previously, and fear of the unknown, that loom as menacing clouds over your head, will inevitably raise the spectre of Story Telling Mind. You will hear him begin to speak to you of desire and craving to be someplace else, or for things to be different or somehow “better, and he will also add a grand measure of potential gloom and doom stories of a future that may never come to pass. When this occurs, you must first recognize Story Telling Mind, and let go of his tales of woe, which will only drag you into a spinning whirlpool of fear and resistance if you let them, causing more suffering, and potentially stalling out your labor. Next you must choose to be very brave and to experiment, looking deeply with eyes of the heart which recognizes that these things are only physical sensations of the body, as it does the necessary work to bring your baby safely into your loving arms, and cognitive sensations of the mind, which is trying to figure out and place labels on your experience. If you do otherwise, you are committing yourself to becoming the monkey in the tar trap, who picked up something interesting, just as your mind has picked up bodily and thought sensations, and then gets himself woefully stuck in them, by resisting and fighting against them, wishing, craving, desiring them to be different, and so greatly increasing your suffering. Remind yourself not to pick up the glob of tar in the first place, to instead surrender and hold onto the anchor of your in breath, and your out breath, letting go of craving and a desire for the contraction to end, the pain to be less, your labor to be shorter, or for you to be experiencing something altogether different. Allow your breath to bring you home to this present moment, free from the tar of craving, desire, fear and anxiety, and remember that the nature of all things, of all sensations is change, and if you can simply let go of the tar and breathe, you will be unstuck and the sensations will pass away.
In as much as this is a great pain management technique during labor and birth, you will find that in every area of life, letting go of the glob of tar, or calling it what it is, letting go of craving and desire, and not holding onto anxiety or fear, is the place where we find our true happiness, it is there that we reach the Pure Land of the Buddha, or Nirvana, or Heaven, or whatever name you choose. When we can see that all things are in and of themselves quite empty of either happiness or sorrow, or pain or pleasure, and it is merely our efforts at resistance, or desiring to change them, or have something “better” or different, or to judge, label, quantify, qualify, or assign worth and meaning, that makes them what they are, we can let go of suffering. In letting go we can find that our true happiness is right here, right now, even in the midst of this world of suffering, even in the midst of challenging or painful contractions, and we can take back the keys from the jailer, release our monkey mind from the tar trap, and realize equanimity and joy.
Wishing you a birth and transition into parenthood, and family life, quite free from monkeys, tar traps, and over flowing with the realization of joy, right here, right now.