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Are your Monkeys preventing you from moving on?

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A monkey on your back

Language is interesting. We know that communication can become difficult when two people speak different languages. A translator is brought in to help. But what if they are speaking the same language but not aware of the meanings of phrases being used? Especially those that involve animals, like monkeys and donkeys?

Way back in August 2012, I hosted my first guest blogger, Andrea Feinberg whose post got many viewers and 2 comments as well –one on the blog and another in a LinkedIn group. Both referred to the ‘monkey on the back’ which brought back memories of the chaos that a monkey created in an office a few years back.

Crisis management that turned into monkey management

Boss and team were dealing with reporting deadlines for a host of clients and a new client had been assigned to the team who needed to be handled literally with kid gloves and had created an untimely demand. Crisis management brain storming over, boss made the innocent remark “Okay, now that we have taken that monkey off our back let us look at the other reports”.

Most of us at the meeting understood what he had said and continued with the meeting. One rookie auditor took the meaning literally and before long, our department had monkey mania. 

Everyone was being called a monkey. NO ONE was spared, be it client, manager, colleague, support staff and worse- clients. A new meeting had to be called to explain the monkey on the back phrase. Soon things returned to normal.

(Not sure about the meaning of this idiom? Check your understanding here a monkey on back )


Holding onto the past

Coming back to monkeys and backs, there is another question worth asking – how long do you hold onto things that are best left in the past? 

Those who live in the past do not get to experience the gift of the present which too shall sooner or later become the past. Immersed in a time that will never return, they miss out on living in the present and old patterns are repeated because they do not know how to change. 

There are lessons to be learned from the past – when things have gone wrong, understanding what it was and using the new knowledge implement it in the present so that the future becomes better. 

Understanding the past helps us to understand ourselves and break self-limiting patterns and beliefs that prevent us from moving onto the future and goals that we wish to achieve. 

The world that we live in is not stationary.  It keeps changing. By holding back with old patterns and beliefs that no longer serve us or benefit us, we keep those monkeys on our back. 

There is a beautiful traditional tale about the Two Monks which brings home the same point. 

Have you ever found yourself holding on to past events or experiences that serve no purpose? How do you let go and progress towards your goals? Do share your actions and tips with us in the comments box below.



Written By: Vatsala Shukla


Thinking Monkey by Petr Kratochvil

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18 Responses to “Are your Monkeys preventing you from moving on?”

  1. Tamuria says:

    So true Vatsala. Hanging onto the past keeps us stuck! I love that story of the two monks – explains the issue so well. We must let go before we can grow. I always resort to my grateful journal when I get stuck. Making myself focus on all the good in my life helps to put the past behind me.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      I agree with you 100% Tamuria. My Gratitude Journal is an intrinsic part of my daily ritual to stay grounded and to keep my perspective on life and the curve balls it hits us. 🙂 Interestingly, there is a card in Osho’s Zen Tarot called ‘Clinging to the Past’ and it advises to stop hanging on to that which is no more and to look forward. I’m glad you liked the story of the Two Monks. It is one of my favorites.

  2. About 20 years ago I was introduced to a transformational program. One of the core areas was learning to let go of the past. Powerful exercises and it helped me tremendously. I feel for people who suffer because of something from the past. And it isn’t even the what happened, but what they made it mean. Enjoyed the post.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Our perspectives color what we make of our experiences, Roslyn and learning the required lessons from events or incidents and then letting them go instead of anchoring our identity in them is the best way forward. It often requires help to re-frame the perspective or accept what has happened especially if there is a traumatic life event like a bereavement or divorce that requires support to develop the right coping skills and to release the pain of that trauma.

  3. You know, I used to hold onto some things from the past and played the movie in my mind for a long time, wondering how could I have done it so it turned out better.

    Now i know I just need to let go of some things, learn from some mistakes, and move on.

    Thanks for bringing awareness, Vatsala!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      A lot of us cling to the past Delia, because it provides an anchor point. If that past helps us to move forward in the future, then that works but if it becomes a block or limiting belief about ourselves, then it has to be gotten rid of asap.

      I love the way you’ve described it as playing a movie in the mind. 🙂

  4. Reba Linker says:

    Wonderful, Vatsala! I love your monkey story. It reminds me of people who flog a joke to death – some people can make it more hysterical each time around, while with others it’s just “Groan – why doesn’t he get that the joke is over!?” To totally mix animal metaphors, it’s like beating a dead horse.

    The monk story is one of my favorites! xo

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Mixing animal metaphors can be a disaster, as we saw with the true incident in the post, Reba. BTW, the monk story is one of my favorites too! 🙂

  5. Anna Alapatt says:

    I have found that mindfulness really helps me to letting go of past events that no longer serve me. Also, meditation helps me as well. It can be very difficult to get stuck on past events, especially ones that have hurt us deeply. But, if we cannot learn to let them go, then we cannot bloom into the next phase of our lives. At least, that is what I have found from my personal experience. Thanks for the reminder to not stay stuck in the past, Vatsala!!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Mindfulness and living in the moment helps to focus on what’s important right now. The past cannot be undone and bit of forgiveness, both for the person who hurt us and ourselves for allowing us to be hurt helps heal wounds. It takes time, but we eventually get there Anna.

  6. Natasha Botkin says:

    Love the monk story reminder. Kinda need to read that today. Thank you! xoxo

    • Karmic Ally says:

      The monk story is a simple one but with a powerful message and teaching, Natasha. I’m glad you loved it but happier that I could be there for you today through the story. XoXo

  7. In my experience, things from our past, might not always be conscious. They settle in us and seem to influence us without us even knowing it. It’s important to be as conscious and objective as we can about identifying what past event is still impacting our present. Also, knowing what that past situation actually have to do with today. What are we making it mean? Releasing the past is very freeing, as I see so many people who still hold on and limit themselves from creating something new for themselves. Love the monkey analogy too, Vatsala!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Wise words from a very wise lady, Beverley. I love the way you put things into the correct perspective. Holding on to the past can create health problems too like asthma and heart conditions because the body is internalizing the toxic memories. It’s so much better to acknowledge the pain and move forward with life. Not easy, but it can be done with patience and willpower.

      The monkey story is a true one and the team member actually worked with me and my Sheep colleague. It was a public relations nightmare at the time but we all learn, don’t we. 😉

  8. Julia says:

    I have found this to be so true in my life Vatsala. It is in letting go of the old that I both make room for the new, and allow myself to be fully present in the Now.

  9. I just heard from a friend who was worried about a 1 year anniversary coming up & in the past she messed things up on the 1 year. We talked for a long time & I helped her put that experience back in the past. She intends to be mindful but not anxious about it. So often we create mental obstacles. She had a monkey on her back & we got him off.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Your friend is blessed with your friendship, Roslyn. Letting go of the past and that awful monkey on the back is so important to savor the present moment rather than face it with fear. Thanks for sharing your case study for getting rid of monkeys on our back.

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