Rapture in Letting Go and Living in the Now

by Richard Jones

In the desert, a traveler
returning to his family
is surprised
by a wild beast.

To save himself
from the fierce animal,
he leaps into a deep well
empty of water.

But at the bottom
is a dragon, waiting
with open mouth
to devour him.

The unhappy man,
not daring to go out
lest he should be
the prey of the beast,

not daring to jump
to the bottom
lest he should be
devoured by the dragon,

clings to the branch
of a bush growing
in the cracks of the well.
Hanging upon the bough,

he feels his hands
weaken, yet still
he clings, afraid
of his certain fate.

Then he sees two mice,
one white, the other black,
moving about the bush,
gnawing the roots.

The traveler sees this
and knows that he must
inevitably perish, that he will
never see his sons again.

But while thus hanging
he looks about and sees
on the leaves of the bush
some drops of honey.

These leaves
he reaches with his tongue
and licks the honey off,
with rapture.

"Rapture" by Richard Jones, from The Blessing: New and Selected Poems. © Copper Canyon Press, 2000. Reprinted with permission by The Writers' Almanac, June 26, 2009.

This poem parallels the classic Zen tale - there are several versions - about a monk who walked to the edge of a high sheer cliff to observe the magnificent vista of the valley below. A few minutes later the ground on which he was standing unexpectedly crumbled below him. In his fall he grabbed the branch of a small tree growing out of the side of the cliff. But a rodent above him was gnawing away at the roots of the branch. When the branch broke and the monk again began falling, he spotted a large red strawberry on a plant growing out of the cliff. He quickly picked it and plucked it into his mouth.

The poem and the Zen story both illustrate letting go of the fears associated with negative events, expectations regarding positive outcomes, and the fear of death itself — namely, letting go of the past and future in order to be mindfully aware of and fully experience the moment-to-moment rapture of living in the infinite now. Peace, Charlie