On Delight

by Rev. Aaron Payson

There is a Zen tale that goes something like this.

One day while walking through the wilderness a man stumbled upon a vicious tiger. He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice. As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine. Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious!

One commentator notes that it is possible this version of the story was changed from the original so that the story would be more favorably received by Westerners, noting that in the original story, the strawberry turns out to be poisonous. (To see all the commentary visit, https://truecenterpublishing.com/zenstory/cliffhanger.html)

 Another commentator notes,

“The vine represents the reality that we live in every day. The tigers are the fear, stress, and lack of focus in our lives that interfere with our desire to achieve peace and that is represented by the field. We are forced by our fear out of the peace of our field into grasping to the vine that is reality. The mice are the thoughts of good and evil and the deeper nature of man that we try to ignore but constantly gnaw at our consciousness and effect our grip on reality. The strawberry is the true nature of the smaller things in life. The true value of these things is not truly appreciated until we are forced from our stagnant peace by our fears and confront ourselves, then we can truly appreciate what our reality has to offer us.”

I think about this story on the edge of summer, as I contemplate the possibility of a time of extended rest and rejuvenation.  As I plan what to pack or carry for one trip or another, I’m mindful that I not only pack things, but I also carry with me the experiences of the year, indeed of a lifetime, and I’m aware of how that history often travels and is present as I visit family and friends.  What the story evokes in me is the sense that at each moment I have a choice and an opportunity to be guided and governed by many different emotions and mental states.  When I am aware of this, I see things differently.  It’s a bit like awakening to things that have always been there but are not often noticed.  

Yesterday, I was caught in a moment of delight as I glimpsed out the front window at the dogwood tree in our front yard was in bloom.  I had arrived back home from a trip a few days earlier and it was surely in bloom then but I hadn’t noticed.  

A week ago, I opened the back door of the house to let the dog out and was met by the fragrance of a large lilac bush in full bloom.  The scent took me back to the bush in the yard of my childhood home and the one that is planted on my parent’s grave.  

Such moments of delight help me remember the joy that is everpresent if I pause long enough to take it in and respond with gratitude for that moment. 

This month’s Soul Matters Theme is delight.  My wish for you as summer approaches are moments like these, where you spy the strawberry in the midst of the struggle, the bloom in the midst of your routine coming and going, the sound of the waves, or the wind through the trees; bird-song, crickets, the rustle of leaves, in those moments when that presence can remind you that delight is not something to seek as much as it is an awareness available to you at any time.