My dear friend Joe Tye sent these thoughts recently……
A coyote caught in a trap will gnaw off its leg in order to escape. It instinctively knows that it’s better to be a three-legged coyote than a four-legged fur coat. It’s willing to go through (relatively) short-term pain in order to gain its long-term freedom.
Contrast the coyote with the monkey. According to a traditional Indian fable, a monkey can be caught by leaving a banana inside a large clay pot that has a very narrow opening at the top. The monkey grabs the banana and struggles to extricate it from the pot as his captors approach. The banana will not fit through the narrow top while wrapped in the monkey’s clenched fist. Now the monkey has a choice, doesn’t he? He can let go of the banana and escape (hungry but free), or he can hang on to the banana and hope against hope to keep both the banana and his freedom. The monkey takes the second approach, clutching the banana as he attempts to run off, dragging the pot behind. He is, of course, quickly captured.
So many people react to the traps that hold them back just as the monkey did. They envision a goal – financial independence, entrepreneurial success, spiritual equanimity – as being “out there” in front of them somewhere. But they are trapped and either unwilling or unable to, like the coyote, go through the painful process of chewing off a paw (changing spending habits, ending an abusive relationship, qutting drinking) so they can escape to a better future. They cling to their “banana” and wonder why they’re stuck, why they can’t seem to move toward the future they say they wish to create.
Though I’ve never tried this personally, I’ve read that if you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will instantly jump out. If, on the other hand, you put the frog into tepid water and gradually turn up the heat to the boiling point, the frog will relax into a fatal stupor. Perhaps that’s how we get stuck in our own little traps: we grow so accustomed to the pain that it becomes tolerable, even comfortable, when compared to the risk of making a leap into the unknown.
The keys to escape the traps of life might be simple common sense, but the locks are rarely easy to open. We become so used to our traps, so comfortable in them, that we hardly recognize them for what they are. And we end up sleeping with the frogs.
Some lizards are equipped with a break-away tail; if they are caught in the beak of a predator, they yank so hard that the tail comes off and they can run away, diminished in stature but still alive and free. And before long, they grow a new tail. Perhaps that’s an even more apt metaphor than the coyote, because once we escape from our traps, we can usually grow back whatever we’ve lost – in fact, more often than not, it will be stronger than the original.
Sign up for Joe Tye’s Spark Plug and he will send you some awesome original thought.