The following is a thought-provoking Zen parable:
A man encountered a tiger in a field. He attempted to escape by lowering himself down a precipice. He looked down and, to his horror, saw more tigers looking up, anticipating their next meal. He looked up and spotted two mice above gnawing on the vine he was clinging to.
Then, looking to his right, he sighted a strawberry growing from the cliff face. Reaching over, he grabbed the morsel and popped it into his mouth.
“Mmmm!” he thought. “Delicious!”
Okay, I’m not as smart as the rest of you. It took me more than one try to get the point. Kipling was right, I thought. East is east ... Only a crazy Buddhist would think about strawberries with less than ten seconds on the clock. But the sentiment resonates in every culture:
“There is nothing under the sun better for man than to eat, drink, and be merry,” reads Ecclesiastes, the most Buddhist book of the Bible. In 1 Corinthians, Paul counsels, “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.”
Life is a bitch. No one gets off this planet alive. We have to savor our good moments while we can. But, of course, we will miss them completely if we keep getting stuck inside our own heads.
Earlier, I referred to my “Zen moment” that occurred very shortly after my marriage broke up late in 2006. I looked to my right. The valley below was bathed in shadow, as were the peaks that rimmed the valley. But the setting sun happened to magically catch one distant summit.
I was out of my head and into the moment. I had hot dogs in my grocery bag. I had beans. I had Earl Grey tea. I was going to eat. I was going to drink. I was going to be merry. Tomorrow I could very well fall to pieces. But today was a gift.
Granted, the past and the future provide context, but life is all about the present. If you’re not in it, you’re not playing. To play, you have to pay attention.
The other day, I played a tune I had just downloaded for a friend. My friend said how the song reminded him of a certain 70s group, a 70s songwriter, a 60s performer, and a 50s satirist. He kept talking. And talking. It soon became evident he wasn’t listening. He had tuned out the tune. Unfortunately, he had failed to tune out his mind. It’s something all of us do all the time.