Lesson from a Raccoon

By Jen Whinnen

Yesterday I head a bird outside my window squawking.  It was clearly in distress, yelling loudly and aggressively. Looking into the tree I saw, draping down the side of what looked like a bird’s nest, a long black and white striped tail. A raccoon had taken up residency in the bird’s nest. The bird was a mess. Hopping madly from branch to branch, crying, yelling, screeching with all her might, she was at a loss as what to do. Beyond using her vocal chords, she was completely impotent.  She was powerless against the hulking mass of claws, fur, teeth and jaws that had taken over her home.

I also felt distressed and impotent. I wanted to help that little bird, but what could I do? The nest was too far for me to reach and even if I did somehow manage to scare the raccoon out of it, the damage had already been done. Clearly he’d had a very satiating meal of bird eggs.

Self-satisfied, tummy full, the raccoon, as if sensing mine and the birds’ dismay, rolled over and exposed his rump and went back to sleep.  It was as if he said “here’s what I think of your stress. Now please, leave me alone.”

When I showed the nest to my boys, my oldest assured me that in fact the raccoon did not eat the birds’ eggs. “Birds lay their eggs in June. Those baby birds have already left the nest. That raccoon built that nest all by himself. That’s his nest actually.”  His confidence was the confidence of nativity; making up “facts” that worked in his favor. Say it out loud, with great confidence and volume and so it will be!  My son simply could not accept that nature is both cruel and random.  For him, we live in a just and verdant universe. The bad guy  never gets away with it because the super hero always saves the day and all babies everywhere are well protected and cared for.

We adults know this isn’t true. Raccoons eat bird eggs, shove their butts in your face and tell you to “suck it” all the time while we sit here feeling completely and utterly helpless.  This past month however has felt a little like a role reversal.  It’s like we’re the raccoon and society is screaming at our fat behinds saying “Hey! You are in my nest! Get the out of my nest! Don’t do that!” From Robin William’s death, to Ferguson to the current Ice Bucket challenge, we’ve been bombarded with a new kind of imagery; one that is begging for us to pay attention and help each other out.

So, are we hapless, self- indulgent raccoons out for ourselves or are we something more?

Yoga points to more.  But, the practice itself does not mystically change the fabric of society. It is a tool that assists us in changing how we see and think. Yoga does not change who we are, it does not make us something different, but it does point us towards knowledge. And often it is the knowledge of what we are not. We are not alone, we are not separate, we are not more entitled, we are not better, we are not worse. We are connected and we are a powerful force for change.

As we head into the season of reaping and sowing I encourage you to continue to throw buckets of cold water on your heads and use that shocking sensation to remind you that you can do more. Write your congressman and tell him you want more money spent on medical research, that you want more funds ear marked towards mental healthcare. Volunteer in your community and encourage your friends and family to volunteer too (here are a couple great resources for finding volunteer opportunities: New York Cares & Hands on Portland). Donate more of your discretionary funds on a regular basis towards organizations that are working to fight disease, injustice and intolerance.  Read this blog and talk about race issues. Be kind. Be useful. And above all, use your practice to reveal to you how very, very potent you are.