There is a Zen parable about a man who surprised a tiger while walking through the jungle. The ferocious animal pursued the man, and with the tiger tightly on his heels, the man came to a steep cliff. He saw a vine dangling over the edge, quickly grabbed it, and began shimmying down the vine narrowly escaping the teeth of the tiger who glared at him from the rim above.
This put the traveler in a predicament. He was high in the air with no place to go. The vicious tiger was overhead; jagged rocks were below; and he was clinging to a vine that was not nearly long enough to lower him to the ground. Then, as if things could not be direr, a mouse emerged from its den and began to nibble at the vine.
At this moment the traveler saw a perfect, plump strawberry within arm’s reach, growing out of the face of the cliff. He picked it, ate it, and exclaimed, “Wow!!! That is the best strawberry I’ve ever tasted in my entire life!”
The story ends there (leaving the man hanging in a lurch), but the lesson keeps going: If the man had been preoccupied with the rocks below (his possible future), or the tiger above (his past troubles), or the mouse chewing away at the vine (his vanishing present), he would have missed the strawberry within the present moment. He would have missed the joy of now.
Those of us who have fixed our eyes on the rearview mirror feel the days gone by slashing angrily at our heels with the unanswerable questions of regret. Yet, countless people live their lives in a hypothetical time machine, always worrying and fretting over a distant yet-to-come that might never materialize.
And of course there are those who are preoccupied with the future differently. They say things like: “I’ll do it one day (whatever ‘it’ is). Life will be better next week…next month…next year…next decade.” But in the end, the end comes far too soon, and all the best-laid plans never materialize.
If we are engrossed with the snarling monsters of our past, obsessed with the fearful uncertainties of tomorrow, or spend our precious few days prepping for an ethereal future, this much is certain: We give away today; we miss the now. Right now might not be your greatest moment, but now is all you have.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.