Friday, August 5, 2011

Tigers and Strawberries

Just read this on thisisnaive:
From Open to Desire by Mark Epstein,

There is a famous story from Japan that expresses the peculiar delight with which desire is held in the Buddhist tradition. A young woman, it is told, is walking through a field when she encounters a tiger that eyes her hungrily. She runs and the tiger pursues her. She comes to a cliff, takes hold of the root of a wild vine and, in a single motion, swings herself over the precipice. Dangling there, clutching the vine, she sees the tiger sniffing the ground above her. Trembling, she looks down. It is a long way to the bottom, and she feels momentarily dizzy. Then she sees something else. There is another tiger below, presumably a hungry one, who has also noticed her plight. The tigers prowl, one above and one below, waiting for their feast. She clings to the vine. Suddenly, two mice appear at the edge of the cliff and start to gnaw at the roots that hold her. The woman notices a wild strawberry growing nearby on the side of the hill. She reaches with one hand to pluck the strawberry, still clutching the vine with the other, and places the fruit in her mouth. She takes one bite. Ahhhh! How sweet it tastes.

This is the end of the story. We never learn what happens – or, rather, we are told exactly what we need to hear. The story, as I understand it, is about desire. As a Buddhist teaching story, it is obviously about other things as well. It is about being in the moment and the fragility of everyday life and doing one thing at a time, but it also seems to be a metaphor for desire. The woman encounters her desire and it appears as a tiger. In psychoanalysis, the tiger would be called a projection. Fierce, wild, devouring. A beast. Just as with desire, there seems to be only two options: to flee or to surrender to it.

Our protagonist runs from the beast, only to encounter a second tiger. There is no escape. Cornered, she hangs on for dear life. But desire continues to torment her. It changes form, multiplies, threatens her as she struggles to avoid it. Even in the form of the mice it is dangerous. How can she escape? The solution lies in the strawberry. What does she do? She tastes it and it is good. She takes one bite, not even knowing if she will have a second one, not knowing if there will be a next moment at all. With complete attention, she savors the flavor of the fruit. Desire is the tiger and the mouse, but it is also the strawberry. When the young woman stops running and gives up the fear of being devoured, she can finally taste it. The flavour of desire is good.

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