I have always thought that tigers are these amazingly beautiful cats. Each tiger has its unique markings. Growing up my primary interaction with tigers was at the circus and at the zoo. On rare occasion, I got to see them on Mutual Omaha’s Animal Kingdom. As a result, my primary knowledge of tigers was what I saw based on these beautiful animals being outside of their natural environments.
Recently, I was offered the opportunity to understand another side of tigers and to see how a few of their qualities can assist in spiritual development. These qualities are discernment, gentleness, and precision.
One thing we learn from tigers is that they always look before they leap. They are not constantly leaping after everything, which comes into their site. They think carefully about what they need. Then they discern whether they need it. They think about what they truly need, are going after, and then make decisions based on that. It is this quality of discernment, which enables us to come in touch with our core value and purpose in life. I can remember when I was pastoring and feeling that while I knew I wanted to be of service, I also felt as if the setting I was in was not where I needed to be. As I began to discern what my core purpose was in life, I came to realize my purpose was to continuously evolve and transform spiritually and to empower others with the tools to do the same in their own lives. I could have leapt at other pastoral positions, which were available, however, I needed to enter a time of discernment and not leap at everything, which came in my direction. If it were not part of my core vision, then I let it meander by me. I have had to work at discerning what and why. What do we want to do in life and what is our intent in doing so?
The second quality of the tiger is gentleness. The images we most likely see of the tiger are them chasing after their prey, growling at the circus trainers, or sleeping in their cages at the zoo. However, the more I have learned about tigers, the more I have come to realize is that their primary quality tends to be gentleness. They are loving with their cubs and demonstrate their compassion for others in their pride in numerous ways. The way they interact with each other can be quite moving. That is not to say that they do not have their moments, but they discern when they should be gentle and when they should not. One of the things I tell others and myself all the time is be gentle, patient, and kind with yourself, especially when you are going through a rough time. see it is easy to be gentle when things are good, but when you are hurting and you really want to just let your claws out and scratch somebody up, it is important to develop the ability to retract them and be gentle. Responding to others, or ourselves, from a place of hurt or anger does not make a situation better; it tends to exacerbate it. The other day, I had to practice this gentleness on myself. I struggle with my weight all the time. It just is what it is. The other day, I ate too much of a ham that was so good, it just tasted like more. It was not that I was hungry because I wasn’t. It was just good. Afterwards, I found myself beginning to beat myself up for my choices. Beating myself up wasn’t going to do any good. So I spent some with myself in meditation to discern if there was something else going on and then I got gentle with myself and said it was ok. Tomorrow is another day and today I was so much better.
My grandmother used to say you can catch more flies with honey, then you can with vinegar. Being gentle with people and with ourselves helps us to move forward and evolve in ways that are loving and compassionate. Beating one’s self or somebody else up never helps people feel encouraged or supportive. Understanding that we all have moments and it is what it is. It is always helpful to have a friend who understands and reminds us it is ok, even if that person is ourselves. As I have learned to be gentler with myself, I have learned to be gentler with others.
The final quality is that of precision. It is amazing to watch a tiger walk through its environment, at least in its natural environment. It is very mindful about every step it takes. The tiger is mindful of its entire environment, what is going on, what it smells, hears, senses. It is as if every step is a form of meditation. I remember growing up, my mother tried to teach me this kind of mindfulness. One of her techniques was to tell me to brush my hair 100 times and to be mindful of how it felt and how pretty my hair looked when I was done. As adults, we can practice that same kind of precision in everyday life, whether it is in the way we clean our living spaces, decide what to wear, brush our teeth, wash a dish, or eat a meal. The world is our landscape and like the tiger, we have the capacity to be mindful about everything we say and do in our environment.
Sound easy? Each of us is at different places in our journey. However, with discipline, meditation, and practice we can begin living like a tiger, embodying the qualities of discernment, gentleness, and persistence.