I am enjoying a gifted book from a dear friend called The Book of Awakening by Best Selling Author and Poet Mark Nepo. It’s full of daily quotes and considerations, just the kind I like to keep handy to rescue my racing brain from attaching to useless, redundant narratives. It’s a quick way to re-route a thinking loop we are stuck in, or just a great reading first thing in the morning, or in the final moments of the day before drifting off to sleep.
Until recently, I had never heard about monkeys and rice but this fable truly resonates. Here’s how Mark Nepo lays it out:
“There is an ancient story from China that makes all this very clear. It stems from the way traps were set for monkeys. A coconut was hollowed out through an opening that was cut to the size of a monkey’s open hand. Rice was then placed in the carved-out fruit which was left in the path of the monkeys. Sooner or later, a hungry monkey would smell the rice and reach its hand in. But once fisting the rice, its hand could no longer fit back out through the opening. The monkeys that were caught were those who would not let go of the rice.
“As long as the monkey maintained its grip on the rice, it was a prisoner of its own making. The trap worked because the monkey’s hunger was the master of its reach. The lesson for us is profound. We need to always ask ourselves, What is our rice and what is keeping us from opening our grip and letting it go?….”
An important point here is that food is plentiful. Yet the monkey could only anticipate satiety from the rice he could not have, instead of looking around after removing his un-clenched hand sans rice, and finding another food source. He could not see anything but the trap he was caught in and struggled because of it.
Nepo’s question is profound: What traps are keeping us from living in the larger abundance of life? What has us so focused on a limited supply of something that our clenched, clinging hands become our detriment, instead of our liberation? What are we desperately grasping onto that keeps our hand trapped and unable to access the abundance which surrounds us?
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. If I haven’t adequately described this lesson, take a look at this image and see if it brings the point home. We have to open our clenched, clinging hands if we want to avail ourselves of what we truly seek: Love, Connection, Beauty, Purpose, Abundance.