The Tigers and the Strawberry: When Despair Sharpens Joy

The Tigers and the Strawberry: When Despair Sharpens Pleasure


A person touring throughout a subject encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught maintain of the basis of a wild vine and swung himself down over the sting. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the person regarded right down to the place, far under, one other tiger was ready to eat him. Solely the vine sustained him. Two mice, one white and one black, little by little began to gnaw away on the vine. The person noticed a luscious strawberry close to him. Greedy the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the opposite. How candy it tasted!’

This Buddhist koan, translated in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, resonates with me this week. The Buffalo homicide of ten individuals by a person pushed by hate. The Uvalde murders of 19 youngsters and a couple of adults. All of it appears like a intestine punch that retains getting worse and worse as extra information trickles out.

After which there’s information nearer to house – a seemingly minor medical subject that unexpectedly morphs right into a summer season of surgical procedure and rehab with the potential of incapacity and dying.

On prime of the pandemic and the grinding grinding grinding of stressors nice and small. Tigers, cliffs, vines, and mice.

Stressors, hassles, assets, and stress.

Psychologists who examine occasions like these use the phrase ‘stressors’ to speak in regards to the occasions that require us to make use of further assets to adapt and hold going. Stressors will be good – just like the delivery of a welcome baby – or they are often unhealthy, like a dying or a medical prognosis. ‘Hassles’ is a phrase that has been used to speak about all of the little issues that eat at our assets when ‘destructive life occasions’ occur. Discovering childcare to go to a docs’ appointment. The itching discomfort of a masks worn too lengthy. Hassles are the mice consuming at our vine whereas tigers prowl above and under.

Misery’ is the emotion we expertise when the calls for we expertise are greater than our assets can deal with. When we’ve got a number of assets – emotional, concrete, or social within the type of assist – it’s simpler to roll with the punches. We are able to enhance our skill to deal with stressors by spreading out the calls for so our assets aren’t all wanted without delay, by enlisting help and spreading out the burden, or by growing the assets we’ve got.

Therefore the strawberries.

Strawberries, Stoicism, and mindefulness

Strolling with my husband within the woods right this moment, he mentioned what I felt – that for the reason that prognosis got here in, all the pieces appears a lot sweeter. The birdsong extra beautiful. The greens that a lot sharper. The corporate that rather more valuable.

Like the person clinging to his vine, the strawberry was so so candy.


I used to be speaking to a pupil just a few weeks in the past who was overcome with ache. The world simply appeared an excessive amount of and all the pieces she was studying in courses about prejudice and hatred made it worse. All of it appeared to be that rather more hopeless. Issues had been unhealthy. Psychology instructed us why. It didn’t inform us easy methods to assist. The emotion she felt was despair.

We talked about constructing moments of mindfulness into her day. Not candles and music and bathtub oil. However instructing herself to attend to each small little bit of magnificence that chanced throughout her senses. Mild on a water drop. A phrase of music. A kindness. A reality.

I instructed her that’s why I had orchids in my workplace – as a result of caring for them compelled me to have a look at their elegant loveliness.

And I instructed her about my darkest time, once I wasn’t a lot older than she is now however how I nonetheless remembered the sense of marvel I had once I pushed the button for an elevator and the door instantly opened. One thing good had occurred – simply because it ought to have. One thing was proper with the world. Forty years later, I nonetheless cherish the preciousness of that second and the hope that it gave.

Stoic philosophy – like Zen philosophy – teaches us to take care of small moments that hold us going. Sensations that break by way of the heavy fog of despair that may drag us down like a sodden blanket. Being aware of magnificence and goodness and reality.

Regardless of all of it.

It’s a behavior value cultivating.


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