The internet was abuzz earlier this week about the death of Zach Sobiech. Diagnosed with cancer four years ago at the age of 14, Zach amazed his family and friends with the way he lived his life and his unwavering positive outlook. Last year when he learned the cancer had spread, Zach poured his energy into making the most of his last days. He wrote a farewell song called “Clouds” and the music video on YouTube went viral. (Watch Zach’s story below.)
After learning about Zach I thought of Pema Chodron’s tale of a woman being chased by tigers. Finding a cliff she climbs down a vine but sees there are tigers below. Looking back up she sees a mouse is chewing through the vine. Tigers above, tigers below and a pesky rodent destroying the thing to which she clings. The woman looks around and sees luscious strawberries growing on the side of the cliff. She chooses to pluck the berries, place them in her mouth, and savor them much the way Zach did with the good things in his life. Pema Chodron reminds us that we are all somewhere between birth and death. At every moment we have a choice: Worry about the tigers or delight in the strawberries.
For those who focus on the tigers and miss the strawberries altogether, Zach’s story shows us there is another way, even in the most dire situations. Want to choose the strawberries in the future? Then build the habit of doing so. Like a muscle that can be trained and strengthened, the more times you practice choosing joy over fear and living in the present over worrying about the future, the more easily making the choice becomes.
When we view the asana practice as a microcosm of life, we can see how being on our yoga mat provides opportunities to prepare for making choices in the face of obstacles. When a pose challenges the muscles to the point of shaking, see if the mind can find the ease. Should the internal temperature rise and the pulse quicken, try to smooth the breath and experience the moment. When you begin to think you couldn’t possibly spend one more second in your most difficult posture, focus on letting go of the discomfort and expectations for the future and simply…be. Each and every time you are in yoga class, seek to look beyond the tigers and find the strawberries. In time you may find you’re doing so off the mat as well.