The participants in the Fall Reflection Series I’m giving at St. Hubert’s are praying this week on the subject of letting go of the things that we cling to, things that threaten to remove God from the central place in our lives. The various prayer exercises they are engaging in this week are designed to help them identify what are the things that they cling to, what are the things that distract them from discipleship.
The difficulty for us is that the things we cling to can look very attractive to us, so attractive that we can fail to see how our attachment binds us, how it prevents us from being free. Buddhist thought on this subject is very developed; Buddhists identify attachment as one of the root delusions.
There is a story that captures well the danger of clinging. It is one I first heard many years ago, but I read it again recently in a newsletter and so thought to share it. It is a story that explains how monkeys in Africa are captured alive with a simple trap. The “trap” is a heavy bottle with a long neck, inside of which are placed some sweets that are attractive to the monkey. The neck is wide enough for an open hand to go in and out, but not side enough for a fist to enter or exit.
You can guess what happens. Attracted by the scent of the sweets, the monkey reaches its open hand into the bottle and grabs the object of its desire. Once it closes its fist around the sweets, it cannot remove its hand from the bottle. Because the bottle is heavy, the monkey cannot run away with it. All the monkey has to do to get away is let go of the sweets. However, the monkey clings to the object of its desire, unwilling to let it go, even though that means captivity.
We do the same. We cling to things that cannot bring us ultimate happiness, to things that keep us from being free. And all we have to do to gain greater interior freedom is to let go.