“There was a hermit monk living in a cave in the mountains of Japan.
He was a talented artist, and over time he painted a picture of a tiger on the wall of the cave. He was extremely meticulous in his work, and it took him several years to finish. When it was finally done, the tiger was so realistic that when he looked at it he became frightened.”
Excerpt From: Goldstein, Joseph. “Mindfulness.”
How much of our day is spent on “Painted Tigers?” In this Zen story, the monk becomes frightened of his own creation. But, not just his creation, what the creation represents. If it is indeed an image that becomes real in his mind, it could certainly eat him now or if he stays in his cave, it could eat him in the future.
Can an image kill you? Of course not, or can it?
What you hold in you mind, an image from the past that hurt you, an image that makes you apprehensive of the future will define your reality. I’ll take myself for example. Cold calling artists I would like to work with fills me with dread. Why? Any time I reach out to someone I do not know already, who doesn’t know my work, there is always the possibility of rejection, and that is a painted tiger.
I remember all the times I called people in the past and they rejected me – painted tiger. Never mind that I’m relatively successful and I have also reached out with great success. But, in the moment I don’t remember the successes, only the failures. Rationally I know why, because they cause psychic pain!
Our minds are optimized for two things: to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. Of the two, avoiding pain (like being attacked by a Tiger!) is the stronger of the two instincts, and on a primal level your mind doesn’t differentiate between a tiger and a phone call. So, it becomes easy that in our attempts to avoid pain we paralyze ourselves.
The kicker is that paralysis also causes pain. The pain of failure and regret for having not acted in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle. But, even as the cycle may have started many years ago with real pain, it is now and into your future only being perpetuated by a painted tiger.
You have a choice: You can continue to stare at your painted tigers and scare yourself into inaction. Or, you can choose to see it for what it is: an image from your past that is ruining your present and future.
By doing so, you paint over it and reclaim your power. What are your “painted tigers?” Declaring them publicly is a way to cast them aside. Feel free to use the comments to share.