What brings you here?
I invited you to take a moment to pause and consider what brings you here. What is in your mind and heart and body that has caused you to stop here?
You might pause for 10 or 20 seconds to get a clear sense of what brings you here. What’s the first thing that comes to mind?
More than likely, you quickly identified a “problem” or “challenge” that you face. It is something that causes you to suffer in some way, physically, emotionally or spiritually. Among the difficulties people report when they come to mindfulness are such things as:
Anxiety and worry
Now step back from the problem, notice that you are very much aware of the difficulty you face. In mindfulness we call this inner voice, awareness.
The problem is just because you have the inner wisdom and even the resources to cope with your life and all its aspects, it does not mean that you routinely use them. Most of us are on “autopilot” and tend to react much more than we respond to life events. As a consequence we often miss the wanted in life and ruminate over the unwanted. Mindfulness can help you develop your innate ability to be mindful instead of running around mindlessly on autopilot.
Self-Awareness: The Story off the grass-eating Tiger
A tigress goes out hunting one day. She runs across herd of goats. She goes after the goats because she is very, very hungry. She is ravenous in fact. So she attacks them desperately, but she runs so hard that she collapses in exhaustion and she dies giving birth to her cub.
When the goats return to the field, they find the motherless newborn. Those goats decide to adopt him. The cub grows up repeating behaviors like those around him. He bleats. He eats grass. He believes himself to be a goat.
This little cub, who grows into a tiger, now is wandering with the goats and acting like a goat and bleating like the goats and eating the way the goats eat. But he is never truly happy. It always feels that there is something missing, something is not quite right. He feels drained and not in its full power. And he feels that he is somehow different from the others.
One day, an older tiger from a far off jungle sees the herd of goat and decides to attack it. While stalking the herd, the older tiger sees the young tiger running away along with the goats.
Curious as to what was happening, the older tiger decides to stop chasing the goats and pursues the younger tiger instead. He pounces on the tiger and growls asks why he is running away with the goat.
The young tiger is about a year old now and looking at this big male tige; somehow he senses an affinity with this tiger. But he’s also afraid. He freezes in his tracks and he stands there staring at the tiger.
The big tiger comes over to him and says ‘What’s wrong with you?’ The little one says ‘What do you mean what’s wrong with me?’ The big tiger says ‘What’s wrong with you? What are you doing? You are acting weird. You are acting like a goat.’
The little tiger says ‘I am a goat!’ The big one says ‘No you’re not. You are not a goat.’ He leads the little tiger over to a pond.
In one version of the story, upon looking at the reflection, the tiger much to his astonishment realizes who he really was; he was not a goat, he was a mighty tiger! The young tiger feels so thrilled that it let’s out a mighty roar.
The roar echoes from all corners of the jungle and frightens the living daylights out of all the goats that were hiding behind the bushes watching what was happening. They all flee away.
In the Hindu version of the story, the young tiger looks at himself, and he looks at the big tiger, and he is confused. So the tiger says ‘Come with me, come with me.’ He takes him back to his den, and in the den, there is some leftover meat from a gazelle that had been his recent kill.
So he says to the young tiger ‘Eat this.’ The cub says ‘Well no way. I am a vegetarian. ‘ The tiger says ‘Try it. Just try it.’ So the little tiger reaches over and he takes a bite off the bone.
When that little tiger reaches down and tastes some of the meat, at first, he chokes and gags on the meat. But when the meat entered into his body he suddenly felt satiated for the first time in his entire life. The cub begins to stretch. He bares his claws, he opens his mouth wide, and he lets out for the very first time in his life a small roar. That first roar isn’t very fearsome. It’s not yet all the roar that the tiger will give.
In either case that first roar is called the roar of awakening. It’s the first moment when this being recognizes that he isn’t who he thought himself to be. He isn’t limited to the kind of life he had been living and that there was way more for him. And so it is for every one of us.
The older tiger in the story is a metaphor for ‘self-awareness.’ The older tiger knows who he is. He knows is strengths, weaknesses and his place in the world. He isn’t good or bad, he’s just who and how he is.
Looking at the reflection in the water is a metaphor for ‘self reflection.’ How many of you have habits? How many of you have ever tried to change you habits? Was it easy or difficult? When the younger tiger becomes aware of the habits through self-reflection, which in this case come in the form of limiting beliefs, he is able to see his true nature and align himself with what is appropriate for himself and his life.
Just like the younger tiger in this story, you might have, through not fault of you own or negative intention of those around you, accumulated many negative beliefs about yourself.
Connecting with our true nature
So we practice. We practice because like the young tiger we have developed habits that are counter our true nature. And while at some point they may have been appropriate for our survival, now they no longer serve us. They are outdated.
To stop being influenced by surroundings, situations, people, habits or anything that no longer serve us, to develop a bigger vision and align with our true nature, we practice.
Practice is a part of our lives because unlike the young tiger, even after we discover our true nature we continue to live in a world that often continues to reinforce things that are counter our true nature. So our practice brings us back into balance with who we truly are, so we don’t forget, return to autopilot and forget who we really are. Think of your favorite athlete or musician. Do you think they say to themselves, “I’m the best know, so I don’t need to practice anymore?” No! So we practice.
We have a choice. I’m 53 years old and my doctor said if I want to stay active and mostly pain free exercise needs to be a part of my life, for the rest of my life. I have a choice, I could say, “Oh, I’m old. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I can’t surf. I can’t play. I can’t have fun.” Or I can make exercise a part of my lifestyle. Practice isn’t a diet that I go on and once I “arrive” I stop. Practice is a lifestyle choice, so that I can live more peaceful, easeful and free from what hurts me and what is counter my true nature.
Aligning with reality
Because we have years and years of “practice” analyzing, preparing, strategizing, it is easy to lose ourselves in thoughts and to start feeling like victims, blaming the past, others, ourselves, our bodies. But that only keeps us stuck in a reality that doesn’t serve us.
Now we practice being, being with ourselves, our thoughts, emotions, physical sensations. Aligning with who we really are, adopting teachings that supports us and finding our tribe can help us on the path to change. These three are so important that the ancients call awareness, the mindfulness teachings and the community the Three Jewels or Triple Gem or Three Refuges.
So in the process of practicing, not only can we avoid many of the illnesses I rattled off earlier: chronic pain, stress, anxiety, worry, depression, relationship difficulties, problems with substances, grief, loss and burnout, but there are even studies that suggest we can even slow down aging.
Going back to the story, the older tiger is not an external entity. It is an internal entity. It lives right inside each of us. The older tiger is your true self, your awareness. Allow your awareness to shine light onto all your limiting beliefs and find who you truly are.