What traps you, what defines you
Raccoons aren’t the only creatures who need Zen.
We humans get trapped in much the same way they do.
To trap a raccoon you can drill a small hole in a log, angle nails downward into the hole while still leaving an opening, and place a shiny object at the bottom of the hole.
Raccoons will reach their paw into the hole and grab the object. But when they make a fist they can’t pull their paw out of the hole because of the angled nails.
To get out, all they have to do is let go of the shiny object and their paw will then be small enough to slide out.
But they refuse to let go.
And so, too, do we refuse to let go of our shiny objects. Raccoons can’t learn this Zen truth, but we can:
“It is not what we carry with us but what we let go that defines us.”
The obvious shiny objects that hold us captive are money, materialism, status, prestige.
We drown in debt keeping up with the Joneses. We lose our 401(k)s when the economy crashes, but even though the money is gone forever, we refuse to let it go in our bitterness and victimization.
Our litigious society — quick to sue and slow to forgive? Raccoons we are, grubbing for bling. Gambling addictions? Big fists, small minds. Selfishness? Tight fists, shrunken hearts.
We define ourselves by our possessions, our bank accounts, our country club memberships.
If we could but learn another Zen truth:
“The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.”
Our faith, courage, integrity, tenacity, and resourcefulness are worth infinitely more than all the combined material riches on earth. Take those internal resources away and replace them with warehouses crammed full of gold and silver and we’re worthless sacks of skin.
Let’s let Christ weigh in on this:
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
And indeed, what you carry in your heart is your greatest treasure.
That, or your greatest liability, as we discover when we travel deeper down the raccoon trap hole to find another shiny object: pride.
Oh, how we love to cling to our pride, and oh, how painful it is to relinquish.
How fiercely we clutch onto our certainty that we’re right — while we lose our dearest relationships.
How desperately we want people to look up to us.
Percy Shelley has further words of wisdom for us in his poem, “Ozymandias”:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Pride makes a colossal wreck of our lives. Loving, humble service leaves a legacy that lasts.
Near the bottom of our raccoon trap hole we find the shiny object of unforgiven grievances.
We define ourselves by our pain. Without our pain, we have no story.
“I turned out the way I did because my father abused me.”
“I would have gotten that scholarship had it not been for that teacher who gave me a bad grade.”
Forgiveness is not the excusing of harm, but the releasing of bitterness. It does not give wrongdoers permission in their wrongdoing, but extends compassion for it.
Refusing to forgive does nothing to offenders, but keeps us trapped in our pain.
By liberating our pain through the power of forgiveness, we write the greatest story ever told.
At the very bottom of the raccoon trap hole, in the deepest, darkest, most secret corners of our soul, are buried the most destructive shiny objects of all: our vices, temptations, and addictions.
Those who are unable to surrender their vices carry them to a hell of their own making.
The shiny objects that keep us trapped are worthless compared to the freedom of letting go.