These "musings" are short articles on select topics. This one was last updated December, 2017. If you find it useful, learn about our online, self-paced program - Awareness-based therapy (ABT).
Wednesday is our traditional "weekly quotes" day - we examine quotes or a story related to mindfulness, meditation, living in the present moment, happiness, and similar topics.
This week we are going to discuss a popular Zen parable:
A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger chasing after him.
Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to see, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him.
Only the vine sustained him. But, two mice - one white and one black - started to gnaw away at it.
The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other.
How sweet it tasted!
You can attribute many different meanings (or lessons) to this story.
The most obvious is enjoy the present moment. In the case of the man hanging from the vine, if he is caught up in his mind, lamenting a life of turmoil and seeing himself as a "victim," he will be oblivious to the strawberry before him.
But it goes deeper than this.
The tigers represent suffering (which includes discomfort and unease). The man is trying to escape the suffering he perceives in the first tiger and, in his attempt to do so, encounters more suffering in the second tiger. Whether it's illness and death, relationship problems, or a work environment that's less than perfect, we spend our lives running from here to there trying to avoid "the tigers" in our lives.
But, we can't avoid the tigers.
This doesn't keep us from trying, though. We attempt to escape suffering by changing our external circumstances. Or, we distract ourselves with food, lovers, drugs, alcohol, or a new purchase from the store.
But - at best - these things only provide temporary relief.
Even what we label as "good" comes to an end or changes over time, because nothing is permanent. Not recognizing this, we cling to it or attempt to replace it. But, this clinging and endless quest for replacement only create more suffering (another tiger).
It's like the vine the man is grasping to - it won't last forever. As time passes (the mice gnaw on the vine), it will eventually give way and send him plummeting to the tiger below.
The strawberry, on the other hand, doesn't represent an escape from reality - it represents reality itself. It's what exists beyond the mental constructs and conditioned behavior that keep us running from pain and chasing pleasure. It's there for us to partake in once we give up our need to try and control everything in our lives - once we recognize there is no permanent state of comfort.
Joy, sadness, pleasure, pain - it all comes and it all goes. Instead of trying to pull "this" closer and push "that" away, we can recognize the transient nature of existence and learn to be content with what is in the present moment.
The sweet taste of the strawberry (reality) can be experienced if we stop getting caught up in our minds - if we stop being held hostage by the next thought, emotion, or urge that pops into our heads.
What if we told you the biggest problem in your life is that your mind is the biggest problem in your life, and you don’t realize it?
It is. But, our online, self-paced program can help you stop being a prisoner of thoughts, emotions, and urges.
Find out more about the ABT program here.
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note - art credit to Charles Robertson for above illustration; find it at Sediment Press.