After a high stress week for him, he paused and remembered a wonderful Tao fable.
And in thinking of this story, it changed the framework of his thought and he let go of much of the stress. And I started thinking more about my strawberry.
Here’s that fable:
A man is chased by a tiger to the edge of a cliff. He is left no option but to leap off the cliff and as he does, he grabs a vine that allows him to lower himself out of the tiger’s reach. After catching his breath, he looks down as he lowers himself and below him is another tiger licking his chops in expectation of the man’s arrival.
The man pauses to consider his circumstances and notices a mouse gnawing on the vine that is holding him. Despite shooing the mouse away, it keeps coming back and he knows ultimately he will loose the safety of the vine and be in the jaws of the awaiting tiger.
As he takes this all in, he glances in front of him and there, within grasp, is a ripe red strawberry. The man reaches with one hand, picks the strawberry and tastes its utter sweetness. The end.
The first time I read the story some years ago, I ironically skimmed over it—until this morning when my husband shared how that story helped him through a rough week.
So the tiger, above him--the tiger of birth--propelling this guy into unknown peril and challenge and below him the tiger of death…awaiting his ultimate arrival stand between one another as this guy hangs in the balance of life. All he knows for sure is that this mouse—personified time—will be in the background “chewing away” and eventually move him toward his death.
But in the midst of these intense realities, this man makes a choice to focus on the strawberry. To pause and relish what is in front of him and focus on the now.
And there it is in a nutshell. Our life challenge, at least mine today. As we navigate these rumbly uncontrollable twist and turns of our lives, the CNN Breaking News headlines, as we try to hold on and escape the eventuality of life meeting death—how do we “do” the in between?
Do we ruminate over those things that are out of our control? Over exterior stresses, anxieties and annoyances—however monumental or small—certainly a choice. Or do we look for what is beyond those stressors. Can we in the midst of the challenges also notice the things in front of us that hold beauty, however momentary they may be.
Continuing the quest for being present in our lives really can be the difference between being stuck in misery or savoring joy.
Some months back I attended a weekend workshop at Kripalu in the beautiful mountains of western Massachusetts. One of the simple things they require is eating a silent breakfast.
So sitting in a large dining room of silence, I learned what a wonderful way to start your day. A ritual of being present. No phones, talking or computers. Savoring every bite of food—every taste, texture, aroma... A few moments to take your own temperature—where is your head, what are your thoughts, what do you feel, what are your senses taking in? So simple, but how often do we offer ourselves this small gift that can shape the day?
This presence of mind can elude us.
Some find it in hiking over rocky terrain focusing on where to plant their next step. As an artist, I find it in front of my canvas as I zero in on a color or shape. In yoga, it’s that moment when I’m balancing in standing bow and all I can think about it kicking my foot and stretching my arm forward. Those wonder moments when we block out that stupid, annoying noise that clamors in our heads and allows us to just “be.”
So as I ready myself to step before a canvas this morning, I sit here in a moment of silence and take an inventory of the strawberries that appear before me.
And hopefully, I will taste them in all their sweetness. Wishing you to notice the joy as it dances at your doorstep, or quietly grows on a vine maybe tucked in a corner of a secret garden waiting for your discovery.
In a weekend of family time and many folks celebrating freedoms and sacrifice—may you find your peace, inspiration and deliciousness in many places. Namaste’