On the eve of my three week “off the grid” journey, I would like to share the following excerpt on mindfulness. Taken from The Soul of All Living Creatures by Vint Virga, the story shared below captures, in essence, the reason I am venturing on this trip. My hope is that it brings me back to the heart of nature and, more importantly, attain the clarity, self-connection, and simplicity I have been seeking for some time now. As you read the tale below, take stock of those moments where time seems to stand still, for it is in such moments where we are, at our core, unabashedly pure and completely free. This is my personal pursuit.
An ancient Zen tale from Japan tells of a villager who is crossing a meadow when he begins to hear a rustling sound not very far behind him. Stopping, turning, and scanning the field, the man spies a pair of tiger’s eyes – steadily, intently staring in his direction. Startled and scared, especially out in the open, he turns and flees, desperate to find somewhere – anywhere – to hide. The tiger, in turn, springs from the grass, giving chase and bounding through the field while the man, now panicking, runs as fast as his legs can carry him.
Finally reaching the end of the meadow, the man all at once freezes. Just ahead, no more than a foot away, the field ends in a perilous cliff. Beyond that and a hundred feet below, a river flows between the trees in a rocky, narrow canyon. Hearing the panting breath of the tiger closing in behind him, the man steps forward, sits, facing the dizzying height of the gully, and begins to slide down the rock wall. He figures anything is certainly better than a painful death at the jaws of a tiger.
Much to his amazement, after only a few yards, the man finds a gnarled, thickened vine growing from the craggy wall and into the ravine. Catching view of the tiger above him, he snatches the vine, wraps his legs around it, and begins to slide, inch by inch, lower into the gully.
With the tiger pacing back and forth a bit farther above him, the man breathes a sigh of relief and pauses to look down to the river gorge. Impossibly, far below, among the rocks where the vine lands, he spots another tiger lazily resting in the sun. The dangling vine, swaying back and forth, has clearly caught the second tiger’s attention and, within a moment, their eyes meet. Too scared to go farther but too afraid to climb back up, the man decides to stay where he is, hoping that, with time and patience, one or both tigers will wander off. His feet find a small knot in the vine to help bear a bit of his weight, as he desperately clings with his arms and his legs.
As the man dangles in midair and wonders how long he can hold on, he notices a scratching sound in the cliff face just above him. Looking up, he sees two mice – one black as night, the other a dusty white – crawling from a hole in the rocks. They scurry along a narrow path, and when they reach the vine they begin to gnaw it. Dismayed and dumbfounded as they chew away, the man realizes it will only be a matter of time before he falls to certain death.
At that moment, the man notices a small green bush growing from the rock wall. On a runner, a single wild strawberry grows, dangling, as he is, above the canyon. Carefully, gently swinging the vine through the air, clinging with one arm and stretching with the other, he reaches the berry with his fingertips and snatches it into his hands. With a tiger above, a tiger below, and two mice gnawing away on the vine, he sniffs the berry, places it between his lips, and takes a bite. Savoring its deliciousness, he realizes that never before in all his days has a strawberry ever tasted so sweet.
Symbols: one tiger, the past and how quickly we flee from it; the second tiger, our future and how we race toward it but also our inevitable death; the vine, how tightly we cling to life as we know it; the two mice, day and night, mark the passing of time; the strawberry, our reminder to notice this moment and what is right in front of us, setting aside all our judgments, fears and worries.
I promise to write again upon my return – with a detailed explanation of how sweet that strawberry is.