I’ll start with a story from the old Taoist
masters. They have a million of them: you think the Bible is full of parables,
dip into the Tao Te Ching.
A man is walking through the forest, enjoying
his day. He hears a noise behind him, turns, and sees a tiger running at him,
drooling from its rapacious jaws. The man runs as fast as he can to escape the
tiger and comes to a cliffside with vines growing down it. So he grabs two of
the vines, one in his left, one in his right, hand and begins climbing down,
thinking “Whew, that was close, just barely got away from him.” He can see the
tiger pacing around the top of the cliff but knows it can’t climb down. Then,
when he has gotten about halfway down the cliff, he hears a sound from below. He
looks down, only to see a second tiger, pacing beneath him at the bottom of the
cliff. So now, he can’t climb back up or the first tiger will eat him; and he
can’t keep climbing down, or he’ll be eaten by the tiger below. “That’s ok,” the
man thinks. At least I’m safe here and maybe they’ll get tired and go away.” But
next thing he knows, there’s a little noise right on the vine above him to his
right. The man looks up and there’s a little black mouse, gnawing on the vine in
his right hand. “Now,” the man thinks,”what can I do? I can’t go up or down and
this vine is probably going to snap. Oh well, I still have this other vine.” But
no sooner does he think that, then he hears noise above his left hand. Looking
up, he sees a tiny white mouse nibbling away at that vine. He is truly without
options, it seems: a tiger above; a tiger below; a white mouse destroying one
vine; a black mouse, the other. In that moment of despair, he looks to one side
and sees a plum branch growing out of the cliff with one perfect plum on it. He
reaches out, plucks the plum from the branch and takes a bite of the beautiful
juicy fruit. . .
That’s where the story ends. Wow, that’s like watching
an episode of Kung Fu, huh, grasshopper?
The story is about the
importance of living in the present moment. At one end of our life is birth–the
first tiger–and at the other end is death–the tiger at the bottom of the
cliff. The black and white mice represent day and night, the movement of time.
We can’t go back, we can’t escape, and eventually, the vines will be chewed
through. But in the meantime, there is the plum–the “now.” And that is all we
really can live for.
In a world of work and worry and rush and rampage
(and alliterative fun all around), how can we ever experience the “now.”
Although I’m supposed to be an exercise guru, over the next weeks, I’m going to
make those exercises a little different: exercises in mindfulness. Each week,
I’ll present a new one. Try them, share your experiences with what they did–or
didn’t–do for you. Some have food related components, others don’t. But in one
way or another, they will all be about the plum.