Fear of Tigers
Alison Arnold, Ph.D.

There is a Zen story about a woman being chased by tigers. No matter how fast she runs, she can feel their breath on her neck and knows they are gaining on her. She comes to the edge of a cliff and it looks hopeless. Then she sees some vines dangling from the cliff, grabs on to them and lowers herself over the edge. Safe at last! But then she looks down and she sees there are tigers below her as well, waiting for her to lose her grip. She looks up again and sees a mouse gnawing at the vine she is holding. She looks to the right of her and sees a small clump of wild strawberries. She plucks a plump berry and pops it into her mouth, reveling in its sweetness.

This is how we live. There are always tigers below us and above us. We are always at the moment of death or loss. As the old saying goes, "Nobody gets out of this alive." Why are you wasting even one precious moment fearing the tigers rather than enjoying the strawberry? This "strawberry moment" is all you have.

Your tigers may be fearsome. Perhaps you are going to be laid off in two weeks. Maybe your spouse is dying. Perhaps your doctor has just given you bad news about your health. Maybe you are afraid of growing old. Perhaps you had a serious argument with a cherished friend yesterday. Maybe your parents both died when you were young. Maybe you grew up in a household with little money. No matter what your past-how horrible and difficult-no matter what your future-how scary and daunting-you can choose to live in the present moment and savor the big and small joys that are in front of you now.

I am not suggesting that you repress your grief or your anger about things that are happening or have happened in your life. On the contrary, if that is what you are feeling right now, embrace it and make a decision-what do I want to do about this? Cry? Call my friend? Update my resume and ask friends for help finding a job? Eat healthier food? Write a letter to my parents? (Even if I don't send it. Even if they are dead.) Pray to my ancestors for their help and strength? My point is that you should not spend your precious present moments dwelling on things that happened in the past, nor on things that might happen, or even certainly will happen, in the future.

If you are scheduled to be laid off from your job in two weeks, it does no good to sit around worrying about it. In fact, it does great harm to you physically, mentally, and spiritually. The ability to be in the present moment is a gift when we are faced with tigers. Despite the looming threat, we are still able to sit down and blissfully enjoy a thunderstorm, or a fresh baked cookie, or the flowers in the garden. And we are more effective at fighting tigers if and when they do attack if we are fully present. You are more likely to find a new job, or a way to save your current one, if you are completely engaged in your work and your job search.

Even in the midst of tragic, nearly unendurable loss, it is not only possible, but also important to live in the present
Another reason some people object to the idea of living in the present is because, after all, you must plan for the future, or what will become of you?
What we often fail to see is that we can only create our future if we live in the present. The present is where everything is accomplished. All works of great genius have happened in the present moment, with full attention to the task at hand, being "in the flow."

The state of flow in which you expand beyond your previous capabilities can only take place in the present moment.

The many distractions of our busy life also keep us from the present moment. Our minds are so busy and running that we have become a culture of multi-taskers. Driving the car while on the phone. Doing work while watching our child's soccer game. Eating dinner and watching the news. Faster and more.

Whatever we are doing, our minds are usually occupied with useless chatter and inner conversations. Our crazed monkey mind runs off on detours and field trips practicing and planning for things that may never come; going over past events or worrying about something we did or said; replaying arguments to prove to ourselves that we're right and they are wrong. The past is over and the future may never come . All you have is this moment. Can you truly be here?

Control your thinking. Don't let your mind control you. When your mind begins to distract you from the present with some new sidetrack, stop and ask yourself, Is this where I want to go? If it is, choose it. If it isn't, decide a new direction for yourself.