I recently spoke about an experiment that was done where five monkeys were put in a cage with a banana hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the cage and a ladder going up to it. At first, the monkeys tried one by one to climb the ladder to get the banana. But each time one started to climb, the researcher sprayed the climbing monkey with water as well as the other four monkeys.
Soon enough the monkeys learned that if one of them climbed the ladder, they all suffered, and eventually, none of them tried to climb at all.
At this point, the researcher replaced one of the monkeys with a “new monkey” that knew nothing of the water. Not surprisingly, as soon as he saw the banana hanging from the ceiling, he ran to climb the ladder. Before the researcher was even able to spray him, the other four monkeys rushed that monkey and beat him to the ground.
The same thing happened when they replaced yet another one of the original monkeys with a new one until eventually all the monkeys in the cage were “new.” Even though none of them had experienced the cold water, whenever a new monkey entered the cage and tried to climb the ladder, they beat him to the ground without really knowing why. As far as they were concerned, they didn’t climb the ladder because that was the way it was done.
Why do I share this experiment? Well basically it is a powerful illustration of the thinking that all of us can fall into in our spiritual work. For example, when we first come to spirituality, we may say to ourselves: “Wow, this is amazing!!” Excited and inspired, we learn, we ask questions, and we go and tell all our friends and family about our new realizations. In the beginning we have this invigoration of energy.
However, after we stay a while we lose a bit of this desire. We no longer go for bananas. Because we don’t see the big picture, we blindly accept what is right in front of us, and we don’t seek out more. We just sort of accept that we don’t need to go for the bananas. We do things because “this is how it is done,” or we just “go with the flow.”
Unfortunately or fortunately, we need to understand that if we truly want something in this world we first have to have the desire for it. If we want to be well, if we want to quit an addiction, if we want to change anything in our lives, large or small, we must have a desire for it. Everything starts with desire.
You know within each and every one of us there are two forces. There is the little Light inside of us that nudges us and says, “Don’t do that,” “help your friend,” or “go out of your way to make that phone call.” And then there is another much louder voice, the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone, which says: “It’s only once. It won’t bother you. Take a little extra for yourself. Cheat your partner, he won’t even know, or, who’s going to see you there?” The question is which side are we listening to?
This time of year is the perfect opportunity to ask ourselves again: What’s it all about? Is it about the few moments of pleasure or is it about being victorious against that pleasure? What is our job in this world? Are we doing the things that will bring Light to ourselves and others? Are we going for the bananas or have we resigned ourselves to that loud voice in our head that says, “It doesn’t matter anyway?”
Each one of us has a little Light that is going to burn out in 20, 30, 50, or however many years. In this holiday season, may we all develop a true desire that will result in blessings for each of us and the world.