Big Cats, Fruit, and New Year’s Resolutions
Tis’ the time for resolutions. Looking back, it’s been a good year. I fulfilled most of my resolution from last year, which I committed on electronic ink right around this time. Even though I didn’t come close to getting 7 hours of sleep a night (ha!), I was certainly healthy enough to complete the entire Climate Ride and even enjoy it immensely, despite its challenge.
The resolution to get more sleep isn’t going away any time soon, but I’m setting myself a complementary metaphysical goal. Most people have very physical New Year’s resolutions – to exercise more, eat better, or lose weight. But for me at least, I think focusing on those physical aspects will bring far less satisfaction than focusing on the motivations for them. As I said in last year’s post, I’m an overachiever by nature. And like many overachievers, I tend to get so caught up in what I need to do next that I overlook what I’m in the middle of doing. While doing yoga poses has helped me develop an awareness of my body in space, it’s now time to focus on the mental aspect. So my goal is to be more aware and appreciative of any given situation I come across.
A parable that hung outside the wall of my previous yoga studio illustrates this point nicely, regardless of its religious veracity (I say this because all of the websites I found it on were vague “inspirational” sites, not actual Buddhist religious ones):
Once, a young monk was sent forth from the monastery to carry a message to another monastery far away. As he walked through the dense forest, he caught glimpses of orange fur in the dappled shade and heard low growls. Surmising that he was being stalked by a tiger, he quickened his steps, but the large cat easily kept pace with him. Fear gnawed at the young monk, and he began to run blindly through the trees, leaving the path he knew in an attempt to outdistance the hungry cat whose panting breath he could feel upon his neck.
The monk lost his way, and to his terror, found himself at the edge of a great precipice. Behind him, he heard the tiger stop, and begin pacing back and forth among the trees, its golden eyes glinting among the leaves. Shaking, the monk looked down and saw that there were vines clambering over the jagged rocks and he determined to try and climb down them. Just as he swung himself over the cliff, and began clambering down the vines which creaked under his weight, he heard the tiger roar, and saw it stare balefully down at him from above.
From below cane an answering roar, and the monk startled and looked down to see a second tiger, pacing along the stones that lined the bottom of the cliff face, waiting for him to descend.
Shuddering, the young monk closed his eyes and clung to the vine, his only means of support. The sound of nibbling teeth caught his attention and he opened his eyes to see a mouse chewing at the vine that held him suspended between the hungry cats.
Next to the mouse, he saw a flash of red.
A wild strawberry grew in a crevice of the stone, and a lone fruit shone invitingly.
The monk reached out, and plucking the crimson fruit, held it to his nose. The sweet fragrance rushed into his nostrils as the last bit of the vine gave way and the monk began to fall. As he plummeted toward the tiger, the monk popped the strawberry in his mouth, and the flavor was the sweetest thing he had ever experienced.
– From Tigers and Strawberries, a fellow food blog
I’m not Buddhist, but the utter focus of the monk in this story resonates with me. Despite the fact that I’ve never run from a tiger in my life and am unlikely to, I don’t taste the sweetness of the strawberries nearly so often as I should. I often rush in my walk to work, head down, instead of taking in the sunrise. When I biked to work, my worries about being late overwhelmed my ability to appreciate the lapping waves of the Potomac River. I’m often in such a hurry to cook and eat dinner that I find myself forgetting what I ate not long after. The most frustrating thing is that I love bicycling and eating. If I’m often hand-waving those activities, how much else am I sleepwalking through? How can I describe the physical and emotional joys of cycling, gardening, and cooking to others if I’m ignoring them myself?
I know that often this attitude is about “slowing down” or “making more time.” But that’s just not in my nature and to fight it would be painful. I do the things I do because I believe in them – doing less of them wouldn’t do anyone any favors.
Rather, for me, it’s going to be about the mental awareness I put into tasks I’m already doing. Remembering the purpose while I’m doing it, not just of getting somewhere, but of using my body, of minimizing my environmental impact, of making the community a better place. Enjoying tasks for what they are, not wishing they are any more or any less. Just accepting that there are tigers and there are strawberries and sometimes you have to just appreciate what comes, when it comes.