‘Ensō — A symbol of enlightenment, strength & elegance’

As I begin to reach the conclusion of my first month as a PhD student, I can look back at four weeks of persistent warnings in regards to the stress & struggles which line the path ahead. Thankfully, I also stumbled across an old parable, of Zen Buddhist origin, which could calm the wildest of internal storms.

One day, while wandering through the wilderness, a man encounters a ferocious man-eating tiger. Startled & petrified, he runs for his life. But, close behind, the tiger gives chase.

Soon after, the man reaches the edge of a cliff. Before he could even consider his next move, the tiger has him pinned to the floor. His only hope of escape is to suspend himself over the abyss by holding onto a vine that grows at its edge.

Having no choice, he pushes away the tiger, jumps, and holds on to the vine.

As he dangles from cliff, the man looks up. There stands the tiger, baring its fangs and snarling with hunger. With sweat dripping from his brow, he looks down. And to his horror, sees another tiger roaring & impatiently awaiting his arrival. He is caught between the two.

As he considers his fate, two rats, one white, one black, scurry along the vine above him. As if his mind wasn’t consumed enough, they begin gnawing on the vine.

He knows that as the rats kept gnawing, they will reach a point when the slender vine will no longer support his weight. He tries to shoo the rats away, but, alas, they keep coming back.

At that moment, he notices a strawberry, growing on the face of the cliff and within reach of his left arm. It looks so beautifully plump and ripe. Holding onto the vine with his right hand, he reaches out with his left and plucks the strawberry.

With a tiger above and another below, the man bites into the strawberry. Finding it to have the sweetest of tastes.

The parable, of course, is about living in the moment. Seizing the day. Capre diem-ing. Despite his perilous situation, the man chooses not to let the unrealized dangers paralyze him. He embraces the moment, forgetting the hazardous paths ahead & behind which occupy his mind. I guess this is what makes life so fulfilling, the chance to dive head first into the unknown & revel in all that it presents.

Research assistant at Queen's University Belfast

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