A friend recently shared his favorite Zen parable with me:
Buddha told a parable in a sutra:
“A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!”
How many times especially during the holidays as a divorcee or a single parent do we forget to taste the strawberries? The holidays are full of hustle and bustle. We stress about money, gifts, visitation, compromise, pleasing people, travel, eating healthy, delicious yummy food, and much more.
My worries as a single mom are so much greater than they ever were when I was married. Visiting family means making a 9-10 hour trip (one way) with a car load with kids and a dog and, me worrying about car trouble. Family times while wonderful are filled with politics and religion – two subjects I would rather not discuss with my family. I’m ready for the holidays to be over already.
I am a happy person, a positive upbeat personality, glass is full kind of person yet the holidays are not my favorite time of year. October 20th through March are difficult months for me due to special days and holidays, no matter how great a spin I put on things celebrating events alone isn’t as much fun as celebrating with someone special. Going to family gatherings when everyone is attached, well you know what I’m talking about.
I challenge myself and you to take time to taste the strawberries this holiday season. If you aren’t a glass half full kind of person, that’s OK. I’m not suggesting you fake anything. The man in the parable was having a really bad day, it sucked. I mean hanging off a precipice by a vine, a tiger waiting up top, a tiger waiting for you to fall and mice eating the meager little vine that is supporting him.
In a situation like that the only thing you can do is find the strawberry and enjoy it. Life is going to happen, there will be good days and there will be days that completely suck. Every time I read that parable I think of the hope he must have felt when he saw that ripe strawberry. Then the pure joy when he tasted the sweet, juicy ripeness.
I have had those days, the days when something as small as someone bringing me a cup of Starbucks blonde coffee has changed my entire outlook. Their act of generosity and a $2 cup of coffee has allowed me to see things with hope.
Zen may not be your thing, however I imagine there is probably a parable or two that would change your life if you read with an open mind.
1. Find a good book, positive, encouraging book that will bring your focus back where it needs to be. (keep it with you)
2. Highlight a mantra or two from the book, perhaps write one of your own. This parable leads to a mantra of “Find the strawberry” Easy enough to remember, isn’t it?
3. Practice Paying it forward. It doesn’t take money to encourage someone. Smile, encourage, be the strawberry in someone else’s day today.
4. Remember this too shall pass. Prioritize your stress, most of the things we stress over don’t really matter. So let it go.