Look for the Strawberry
"There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down.
She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”
- Pema Chödrön, The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World
Look For The Strawberry. I am borrowing from Pema’s wisdom and adapting her teaching to any predicament you may be facing at this time. Does your scenario qualify as: “Tigers Above, Tigers Below”? She suggests that we can either get depressed about it or start appreciating every moment we have.
I’d also like to add that we don’t need to take the edge off and “numb” ourselves and our feelings by eating or drinking too much. May be “the edge” is where true life resides? It seems futile to run away from what is. I have found myself in “escape mode” and wanted painful feelings to simply go away. I realized that the more I escaped the longer it actually took to work through them and to come back to peace. It takes a ‘warrior spirit’ to look the dragon in the eye, and possibly come to realize that underneath the dragon’s fiery breath is just a little scared baby dragon, screaming for attention and comfort.
Emotions are messengers. Our gift to ourselves is to listen, to pay attention, to have compassion for whatever arises - without judgement. When painful feeling arise, gently notice:
What bodily sensations am I experiencing: shortness of breath, racing heart, dry mouth, shakiness etc.?
What story am I adding to what I am feeling in this moment: Am I catastrophizing, allowing “black and white” thinking?
You may want to write about your feelings and sensations in a journal. If they are too painful or unbearable, reach out to a friend or loved one. Have compassion for yourself and what you are going through in this moment.
Practice Dr. Neff’s self-compassion break, which I find extremely beneficial in times of emotional pain or distress:
Ouch. This hurts. This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is part of life. Others have felt like this before.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the love and compassion I need.
Feeling grounded and safe is the foundation of our wellbeing. Make sure you nourish yourself well in order to stay healthy and strong. Get enough quality sleep and refrain from “doom-surfing” or watching unsettling news before going to bed. Make sure your little microcosm is a sanctuary for body, mind and spirit.
With so many things being out of our control, we can choose what to eat, what to read, how to label our current predicament and be grateful for what we have. Focus on the strawberry.