What zen is there to building a rabbit trap? Good question, but before I attempt to answer it, I think I should explain what the word zen means to me.
Whenever I hear or see the word zen, the first thing that comes to my mind is meditation. I know that formally, zen refers to the School of Mahayana Buddhism, which asserts that enlightenment can come through meditation and intuition rather than faith. Therefore, zen does seem to imply meditation. For purposes of clarity in this post, let’s agree that zen means a meditative experience that helps with enlightenment.
So, the zen that I experienced from building a rabbit trap might/should have lead to some form of enlightenment. And, that begs the question, “What is enlightenment?” Enlightenment refers to a unique experience which wholly transforms an individual from some previous state. I realize that my way of viewing zen, meditation and enlightenment aren’t necessarily in agreement with the Buddha, but for the purpose of explaining my experience of building the rabbit trap, it should suffice. Perhaps the best way to think of the zen of building a rabbit trap is to compare it to some of the writings of Robert Pirsig in his book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values” Instead of sharing “zen thoughts” while traveling on a motorcycle trip, as Mr. Pirsig did, I shall share some thoughts I had while building a rabbit trap.
So, why did I want to build the rabbit trap? Well, last Summer I was talking with my neighbor, over the fence, and she said she would like to get rid of the rabbits that were eating freely from her garden. She didn’t want to shoot them (illegal to do so in our city) and she was unsuccessful when trying to trap them with a Haverheart trap. I responded with, “Why don’t I build you a rabbit trap like the ones I made (box traps) when I was younger and lived on a farm?” Guess what? Last week, she reminded me of that conversation and said she would like for me to build her a trap. And, that I did! Why? Because I was trapped! :-)
As I was building the trap, I had to think about the design of each part. You see, I did not have a set of instructions to follow, but instead, I was drawing from my memory, as a teenager, when I built them while my family and I were living on a farm. I hadn’t built a trap in over fifty years. Isn’t this a reflection of life in general?
Don’t we or at least, shouldn’t we, think about the design of each part of our life. When we plan for a part of our life, aren’t we working on our life’s design? When we are visualizing what we want for our future, aren’t we again working on our life’s design? I think planning and visualization are two important skills we need to use with regularity and they both should be used while thinking about the design for the many parts of our lives.
Another important part of building the trap forced me to focus on the rabbit it was designed to catch. My neighbor did not, nor does not, want to harm any rabbits. She simply wanted to remove any rabbit that might eat her flowers or vegetables. She had a Havahart trap (a trap designed to not harm the animal it catches), but it is visually open on all sides and rabbits generally don’t like going into such an apparatus. The “box trap” that I used on the farm is only visually-open on the ends. This enables the rabbit to have a feeling of being protected from predators above and on each side. In other words, from a rabbit’s point of view, when going into a box trap, it is entering a burrow or brush-pile. Therefore, I was having to use empathy (looking at life from a rabbit’s point of view) to build the trap.
Relating the ”looking at it from the rabbit’s point of view” to our lives, isn’t it important to use empathy in our thinking? Mentally, putting ourselves in the shoes of others, enables us to better understand our own life. As I was building the trap, I had to imagine that I was a rabbit. By doing so, I was forced to consider how the rabbit would “think” about this trap that I was building to catch it. I was literally forced to think empathically. I think the fostering of intellectual empathy is important for all thinking humans. And, here I was fostering intellectual empathy by thinking from the point of view of “Bugs Bunny!” :-)
The final aspect of building my box rabbit trap was testing to see if it worked. In other words, I had to assess the results of my design/thinking. Did the “trigger” work? Was is big enough? Perhaps, it is too small. Maybe the door wouldn’t close as designed.
When I tested the trap, the first thing I noticed was that the “trigger” was too sensitive and the door was too wide. Of course, I had to correct both of those imperfections. Isn’t there a life lesson here when we think about solving problems in life? When solving life problems, we should plan or visualize a solution, empathically think from different points of view and then assess our thinking using reasonable intellectual standards. This is what I did while building the trap; this is what I should do while solving life-problems. A lesson or way of life? Either one – your choice!
So, what was the zen, for me, while building my rabbit trap? As I built it, I was meditating on three important aspects of life (design, empathy & assessment) and had an unique experience of being transformed from the state of observing nature to the state of being part of nature. Bugs Bunny might say to my previous statement, “Weally?” And, I would say, “Really!” :-)
I end with a few more wise words related to catching rabbits from Bugs Bunny: “You know, some day these scientists will invent something that will out-smart a rabbit.” AND “That’ww hold him awight. Hee-ee-ee-ee! Phooey!”