Saturday, 11 April 2009

Strawberries and Tigers

"A woman was jogging in the forest when she realised that a family of tigers had leaped from a mountain and were going to be feasting on her for their next meal. She started to run but was not used to navigating her way through dense trees and before she knew it she was standing at the edge of a cliff. Ever resourceful, she scampered down the side and hung on to a clump of vines.
Meanwhile, the tigers gathered above her, breathing heavily and licking their lips. Then she heard a roaring below her and saw another family of hungry tigers making their way up the cliff. She knew then that her life was over. At that moment she noticed a ripe strawberry hanging from the vine. Surrounded by tigers her life flashed before her: the years she had spent running away from the past and towards an imagined, better future, believing that true love and joy were waiting for her right around the corner. All those ripe-strawberry moments she had passed up, waiting for riper, juicier strawberries - for her life really, truly to begin.
With the starving tigers all around her, she realised there was only one thing to do. She ate the strawberry. And although she did not live happily ever after, she enjoyed that strawberry more than she'd ever enjoyed anything, ever."

There is a moral to this story. There are always tigers above us and tigers below and even so we refuse to eat that juicy, ripe strawberry hanging an inch away from our faces. I've seen it again and again. People get the job of their dreams or move to a bigger house or reach their goal weight or find the love of their life. But then their mum gets ill or their child breaks an arm or their friend loses their job. They escape some of the tigers and forget to enjoy the strawberries on the way.
We have no choice about the tigers above and below us. That is life. Pain is a part of life. You manage to get one part under control just for another to fall apart. Yes, you may be lucky enough to experience a long period of time when everyone and everything is well. Whether it lasts an hour, a week, a month, a year, eventually there will be more tigers. But there will also be more strawberries. The sun will keep coming up, your child will say something that cracks your heart open, a new friend will appear and you will once again be struck by the unbearable wonder and tenderness of life. Most of us ignore the strawberries because we believe that there is something even better up ahead. We spend our youth waiting for our lives to begin, we get old waiting for our lives to begin and we die waiting for our lives to begin. As if there were such a thing as finally getting it right! As if perfection really exists.
A certain kind of perfection does exist, even though the tigers will never go away. Perfection is choosing to enjoy the present, to embrace what life offers in whatever form it presents itself, even when you are not as thin as you would like to be, you hate your job, you owe money or someone you love is dying. When there are tigers above you and tigers below you there will always be a strawberry right in front of you. Pick it. Enjoy it. Let yourself have that much.

From "When You Eat at the Refrigerator Pull Up a Chair" by the brilliant Geneen Roth.

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