“A woman is running from tigers. She runs and she runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds on to it. Then she looks down and sees that there are tigers below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks at the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.” – Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty.
This is such a perfect example of a Zen teaching in its simplicity and its subtle potency. It is my meditation for today.
In all of our lives, there come pockets of time when we are experiencing tigers above and tigers below. I am in one right now. A series of revelations has brought me face to face with the hard, clinging nature of my ego, this fist of self-protection that has cramped into a knot and won’t seem to let go. I feel it in my mind, but I also feel it in my neck and chest and belly.
One of the many lessons I have learned in meditation is that emotions can have long life-spans if they are not allowed to be experienced. I don’t even know what the rational circumstances are behind this fist of fear that has arisen and made itself known. I only know how primal and shameful and terrifying it feels. The meditative path instructs us to simply feel the feeling; drop the storyline and feel the feeling. So that is what I am attempting to do. No commentary, no analysis, no finger-pointing inwardly or outwardly, just experience the emotion. Most of the time when I have done this, the process moves rather quickly, but this particular fist is quite tenacious. I have faith that it will open, though, and I’m practicing the lessons I’ve been taught. I’m breathing with it, and I’m offering myself as much patience in this place as possible.
The challenge today is to seek and enjoy the strawberry, to be with the joy that is also available in the midst of all these raging tigers. This itself is a huge teaching, for instantly we experience just how strong the pull of problem-focus can be! When we are able to turn our attention from the tiger to the strawberry, however, we reconnect with a force within us that is far more potent than any challenge! And we discover that right in front of us, in the very now of life, there is always something sweet to experience – a piece of fruit, a smile, our own continued pulse. When I think of this…as I write this to you…I find that I can breathe a little better.
If you, too, are experiencing tigers above and tigers below, take some comfort in knowing you are not alone! I am right there with you! One of the greatest gifts the tigers have to offer is an expanding compassion for others who are caught in a similar struggle. That compassion flows both ways. As I think about all those around the globe who might be suffering in this emotional way or in another form – as I offer my prayer that your pain be lifted, whatever it may be – my own challenges seem less isolating and more useful, more bearable. This is how we touch.