The Tiger and the Cherry Tree

A young girl was walking through the fields when she noticed a tiger had spotted her. The tiger began to stalk her. She started to run, and the tiger hurried in pursuit. The young girl came upon a tree and scurried up. The Tiger came up to the trunk of the tree and began to climb toward the girl. So she climbed further up the tree, going out on a branch. As she moved out on the branch she was startled to see a poisonous snake.

The snake was slithering toward her. She looked behind, and the tiger was making progress up the tree. Suddenly she noticed she was in a cherry tree and there was a ripe cherry was right in front of her. She plucked the cherry, popped it into her mouth . . . and it was delicious.

What does this Zen story mean? It’s been told many ways, but the central facts are the same from telling to telling. There is danger behind, danger going forward, and the fruit is very tasty. In the Zen story, the tiger is the past, the snake is the future, and both are very threatening . However, the fruit is the present, and it is fine and wonderful.

I believe you can take the story a step further. As with the Zen lesson, there is no tiger and there is no snake, but perhaps there is also no cherry tree or luscious cherry. The cherry is part of the illusion that includes the tiger and the snake.

You can take it a step further yet: there is no young girl, for she is also part of the illusion. There is only consciousness which is neither tiger, nor snake, nor cherry, nor tree, nor young girl. All that exists is the taste, and it is delicious.


A Shift – And Then the Search Is Over

A friend asked what is meant by “spiritual awakening.” I thought, good lord, that’s like trying to explain the taste of ice cream – or why the Beatles meant so much once. I decided to see if anyone had a decent description I could borrow. I researched a whole host of descriptions of mystical experiences: Kundalini awakening, psychic break, deep meditation, LSD, psilocybin, sweat lodges, the effects of following a guru. While I found exciting tales of dips into the mystic and powerful revelations, none described what I was seeking to answer my friend’s question.

Then I found a site that just nailed it. It was Bonnie Greenwell, Ph.D.’s site,

Her description is simple, eloquent, and blessedly void of drama: “The experience of waking up is different than mystical events, and in fact has often been said to be no experience. It is a ground-level shift that occurs right now, right here, and whether it lasts a minute or a lifetime, the Truth of who you are is known,” says Greenwell.

She continues with her clear description of a spiritual shift: “Waking up is what happens in response to the question ‘Who is having these experiences?’ and searching neither thought nor emotion to find an answer. It is not the process of having an experience, however ecstatic and profoundly mystical it may be,” says Greenwell. “It is the understanding of that which has an experience, or that which lives through us and is eternally present through all time and experience. To wake up we have to give up the idea that we are a personal identity who is seeking experiences, and begin to wonder what is really true underneath and behind all experiences that humans live.”

She also well describes the absence of effort involved in awakening: “When there is no longer any struggle, because all that is left of the little ‘me’ is a slight memory and flavor, and perhaps a few insignificant preferences that can easily be put aside, the spiritual journey is over.”

Thanks you, Dr. Greenwell.


The Takeout Window at Panda Express

You’ve been through some changes. Something has happened in your life – either gradually or abruptly – and now everything is different. You can see, hear, feel, and touch a new world, right here where you’ve always been. The very molecules of your body and everything around you seem charged, bright and alive.

You see your life that came before as dreamlike. You’re seeing the world as if for the first time, and it’s infinitely larger. You can taste eternity in this new air.

So now what?

Do you still have to vacuum and take out the trash now that you see your old life seems just an illusion? Do you still have to do your taxes? With fresh joy in each breath, do you still have to do what your stupid boss says?

There is a Zen saying: “Before enlightenment you must chop wood and carry water; after enlightenment, you must chop wood and carry water.” But our world is a bit more complicated than wood and water. What if the wood and water involves humiliation? Can you be enlightened while working the takeout window at Panda Express?

Of course you can. You cannot be humiliated any longer. Gradually – perhaps suddenly – the takeout window becomes an opportunity to serve and meet each new beautiful face that drives up.

I had a friend who was a Unity minister. Before becoming a minister, he did door-to-door sales. At first it was soul-killing work. With all his heart, he wanted to be a metaphysical minister. As he grew in understanding, he came to realize all his comings and goings in the world were charged with spirit. His attitude about his job changed. As he went up the walk to each new door, he sincerely asked himself, “What will the face of God look like this time?”

Needless to say, soon enough he was a Unity minister.