March 7 – Let Go of the Rice – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

In a world that lives like a fist, mercy is no more than waking with your hands open. 

So much can happen with our hands open. In fact, closing and stubbornly maintaining our grip is often what keeps us stuck, though we want to blame everything and everyone else, especially what we’re holding on to.

There is an ancient story from China that makes all this very clear. It stems from the ways 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 it. 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?

It was upon hearing this story that I finally understood the tense ritual of rejection that exists between my mother and me. Like any child, I’ve always wanted her love and approval, but suddenly I realized that this has been my rice – the more it has not come, the tighter my grip. My hunger for her love has been master of my reach, even in other relationships. I have been a caught monkey, unwilling to let go.

I have since unfolded the grip in my heart, and humbly, I can see now that the real challenge of surrender, for all of us, is not just letting go – but letting go of something we yearn for.

The truth is that food is everywhere. Though the stubborn monkey believes in its moment of hunger that there is no other food, it only has to let go for its life to unfold. Our journey to love is no different. For though we stubbornly cling, believing in our moment of hunger that there is no other possibility of love, we only have to let go of what we want so badly and our life will unfold. For love is everywhere.

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