Stories have a certain kind of potency to them. Stories convey life lessons that often make rote learning seem shallow. Long after they are told, stories can continue to inspire the hearer who in turn can draw multiple layers of meaning while ruminating on the parable. This is the case with a story I first heard about forty years ago. While I’ve heard a few versions of it since, I remember the day I heard it for the first time. It was 1978 in Clarksburg, West Virginia. The story-teller was a now deceased spiritual teacher: Brennan Manning. (I know some of my readers will remember him.)
As the story goes, a person was chased through the jungle by a hungry lion. Running and running, just staying ahead of the lion, our friend moves quickly through the jungle. Coming out of the jungle, into a clearing, our unfortunate friend finds there’s nothing ahead but a cliff. Looking over the cliff, our friend finds a very long drop and nothing but jagged rocks below. What will our friend do? It seems that the choices are to be eaten by the lion or to fall to a death on the rocks below. The lion is quickly approaching. In that moment, our friend sees a vine hanging over the cliff and quickly climbs down the vine. A moment of safety! Gazing upward, there is the lion looking over the cliff with its mouth watering anticipating a fresh meal. Looking below, there’s nothing but those jagged rocks. Wondering what to do, our friend looks around and sees a large, red ripe strawberry growing out of a cleft in the rocks. Reaching out, our friends plucks the strawberry and eats it and thinks, “That’s the sweetest, juiciest strawberry I’ve ever eaten!” And so the story ends.
Of course, we are left wondering, “What will our friend do? Does our friend live or die? What happens next?” But that’s not important for our story. Instead, the story is a reminder of how to live life.
Many of us live our lives worried about the things we’ve done. We have regrets about the decisions we’ve made, the opportunities we’ve missed, the things we did that may not have been the right thing. We lose sleep thinking, “If only I had done this or that! I should have…. or I would have….or I could have….” Over time, we feel worse and worse about our lives. That’s the lion chasing us, wanting to eat us alive!
Others are afraid of the future and the choices we make. “What if it doesn’t work!” Or worse, “What if it does work out and I don’t like it!” We aren’t sure what we should do, what our correct path may be, or whether we’ve decided wisely. So, we do nothing but allow our anxieties to immobilize us. These fears and anxieties are the jagged rocks below the cliff. We know we need to be very careful so that we don’t fall to the jagged rocks below.
Rather than focusing on the lion or anticipating a crash landing on the rocks, our friend focuses neither on the past nor the future. Rooted in the present moment, our friend simply enjoys the strawberry that was just found and is thankful for the moment. Our friend’s action reminds us that the real gift of living is in the present moment. It’s the present moment which is the ripe, red, sweet, juicy strawberry growing out of the cleft of the rock.
Forty years later, I continue to think about the story. When I do, I remember to pause and simply be present where I am. The amazing thing is that I always find a strawberry, a gift in the present moment, waiting for me to savor. No matter how stressed and busy my days may be, there’s always something refreshing to enjoy by just being in the present moment.
Photo credit: GGourdé via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA
© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.