One day, while walking through the wilderness, a man encountered a vicious tiger. He ran for his life, and the tiger gave chase.
The man came to the edge of a cliff, and the tiger was almost upon him. Having no choice, he held on to a vine with both hands and climbed down.
Halfway down the cliff, the man looked up and saw the tiger at the top, baring its teeth. He looked down and saw another tiger at the bottom, waiting for his arrival, roaring at him. He was caught between the two.
Two mice, one white and one black, showed up on the vine above him. As if he didn’t have enough to worry about, they started gnawing on the vine.
He knew that as the mice kept gnawing, they would reach a point when the vine would no longer be able to support his weight. It would break and he would fall. He tried to scare the mice away, but they kept coming back.
At that moment, he noticed a strawberry growing on the face of the cliff, not far away from him. It looked plump and ripe. Holding onto the vine with one hand and reaching out with the other, he plucked it.
With a tiger above, another below, and two mice continuing to gnaw on his vine, the man tasted the strawberry and found it to be absolutely delicious.
This story is all about living in the moment. Despite his perilous situation, the man chose not to let unrealised dangers paralyse him. He was able to seize the moment and savour it.
The story is full of metaphors. All the major elements in the story are representations that possess deeper meaning.
The top of the cliff represents the past. It’s where the man had been and where he came from. In terms of your personal timeline, this metaphor refers to all of your experiences and memories from the life that you have already lived.
Climbing up the vine, toward the top of the cliff, would be to revisit the past. The tiger at the top represents the danger of dwelling in the past too much. If we constantly beat ourselves up for not doing certain things as well as we should have, or if we wallow in regret and shame over mistakes we have made, then the tiger has wounded us with its sharp claws. If we cannot let go of negative experiences from the past that make us timid and afraid, or if we feel like victims because we come from a traumatic background, then the tiger has taken a painful bite out of us.
The tiger also represents the impossibility of going back in time to fix something. Sometimes we wish we could turn back the clock and do certain things over. Perhaps you think of the perfect comeback long after the right moment has passed; perhaps there was a special someone; perhaps you said something hurtful to a loved one and would do anything to take it back. Unfortunately, the pathway of time is a one-way street – the fearsome tiger guards the top of the cliff, and mere mortals may not pass.
The bottom of the cliff represents the future. It is the undiscovered territory, the unwritten chapter. The future contains all of your dreams and fears, aspirations and disappointments, potential victories and possible setbacks. It is the mysterious and uncertain domain of tomorrow.
Climbing down the vine, closer to the bottom of the cliff, is to look ahead, anticipate and speculate about the future. The tiger at the bottom represents the danger of being excessively concerned about that which is yet to come, particularly at the expense of our ability to act in the present, or to maintain peace of mind.
The man’s position between the two tigers represents the present. Note that he hangs suspended in midair. In the same way, we too live suspended between the past and the future.
The present is here and now, and it is yours completely and unconditionally. No one can take it away from you, and you alone have the power to decide how to use it.
The vine represents life in the material world. Just as the man holds on to the vine with both hands, all to often humans cling to physical life stubbornly. Our survival instincts compel us to literally hold on for dear life, and we won’t let go without a struggle.
Climbing down the vine isn’t optional.
The two mice represent the passage of time. They are black and white in color for the simple reason that they symbolise day and night.
We will have no choice but to confront the tiger.
Just as the man tries to shoo the mice away, we try to forestall aging. We have entire industries devoted to various measures to maintain the appearance of youth and health.
But just as the mice keep coming back, time marches ever onward and slows down for no one. Despite our best efforts, our time in this mortal plane remains limited.
The strawberry represents the astounding beauty, bliss, energy and vitality of the present moment. It is always there, always available for those who have the ability to see it and experience it.
For instance, at this very moment you can reach out with your awareness and feel this miracle of communication that allows thoughts and ideas to pass between us. You can feel how amazing it is that this interpersonal connection is possible at all. There is a wonder and marvelous beauty right here that we cannot easily put into words.
Step outside and place yourself in communion with nature. Bear silent witness to the genius of nature at work. Perceive reality as an endless interplay of natural forces, swirling around you as well as within you.
There is so much beauty and goodness in each present moment and the infinite instant, that if you were to take in too much at once, you would be hopelessly overwhelmed. The strawberry….
To taste the strawberry is to fully savour the flavour of reality. When you do so, you begin to appreciate the miracle of existence and notice a beauty that is ever-present no matter where you look. This fills you with gladness and gratitude.
Many people live each day mired in the past or worried about the future, unaware of the treasure of the present that they already possess. In terms of the story, it is as if the man is so busy looking up and down that he never notices the succulent fruit right next to him.
Someone who’s faced with this obstacle may say, “It’s great to understand the metaphors in the story, but there’s a difference between that and putting the understanding into actual practice. I can see now that my goal should be to live in the moment, but how exactly do I do that?”
The story offers a clue. When the man saw the strawberry, he held onto the vine with one hand and reached out with the other. This action incorporates three essential elements: holding on; letting go; and reaching out.
The man could not pluck the strawberry if he insisted on holding on with both hands. With both hands gripping the vine tightly, all he could do would be to stare at it.
The comfort zone may be comfortable, but it also offers nothing new. In order to get the strawberry, a person needs to venture beyond the familiar, to probe for a prize that is within sight.
Life is constantly exploring new territories, taking chances, and going places you haven’t been before. If we do the same, we will quickly find that life is fresh and exciting and full of possibilities. We will see that living in the present is both easy and exhiliarating.
Thus, our story teaches that when we have trouble living fully and mindfully in the moment, we only need to ask ourselves questions like the following:
- What are my attachments? What are some things I cannot let go? What attachments am I willing to release, in order to live life to the fullest?
- Am I learning anything new? Meeting new people? Doing anything I haven’t done before? What might be some fun subjects that I can study? What might be some interesting projects I can tackle?
Your answers to questions like these will point out the path you should follow.
As you follow your plan of action to live mindfully in the moment, you will find it easier and easier to stop dwelling in the past or worrying excessively about the future. As you enjoy the present more and more, you will also find that unpleasant or even painful memories no longer affect you; concerns or even fears about future uncertainties no longer paralyse you.
You will find that the present is literally a wonderful present. It is a miraculous gift filled with peace, contentment, energy, and excitement.
You begin to realise that the only requirement to be deserving of such a gift is that you must accept it and enjoy it. Some do not even realise it is being offered to them.