Sumatran tiger

Run gently, like a tiger

Think of a tiger, how he moves with grace, spending the least possible effort in every step. Run like that, to begin with. Later you will be able to run like a joyful lion, and eventually fly like a bird or even a dragon. 

The previous few lines are my short summary of the book “Running with the mind of meditation” by Sakyong Mipham. These four animals are used as metaphors in Tibetan meditation to describe various stages in spiritual growth, and now Sakyong applies them to different stages in training to run. I enjoyed the book, even if at some points he takes both running and meditation to extreme heights beyond what I consider healthy, useful or desirable. But then, the author is a Tibetan lama, and I am not, of course. I am a mother, a programmer, and someone who likes to ponder things. So I will take things a little easier, and stick with the tiger, and perhaps the joyful lion.

Running and meditating have very much in common. Both practices quickly lead to discomfort and confrontations with yourself. On the other hand, both practices are good for your (mental) health, bring clarity of mind, can be fun to do, expand your horizon, and remind yourself of the inner strength that you do have, especially after some training.

Both in running and meditating we quickly find ourselves in a struggle: why do I do this? Can I go on? Should I stop or be harder on myself? When I first started meditating, I really was not prepared for this, see for example my first text: On prayer and quiet. Sitting still made me feel as if my faith was not good enough, and that I was too sinful to approach God like this. I struggled, pondered and wrote lots of texts, but it was a losing battle until I discovered mindfulness and this idea of friendliness as the first necessity for any endeavour.

Friendliness is the base with which we start. Friendly to what? To ourselves, but especially to our struggle. Allow the struggle to be there, it is an essential part of the process. The struggle is what makes us grow, the whole point of exercising. It is not as if we will be truly meditating once we have finished struggling. That would be a completely wrong view of it. We will always struggle, but not frantically, not aggressively, but like a tiger: with the least possible amount of effort, running with grace.

Thinking of the four animals in the Tibetan tradition, as described by Sakyong Mipham, I begin to wonder if my search for christian meditation didn’t land me at the wrong end of the progression. Flying too high when I didn’t have a base. I wish someone had told me about starting easy, but then, perhaps I just didn’t listen. To be honest, a friend did tell me about a simple basis: the Jesus Prayer, as the most basic simple prayer that just expresses trust in Jesus. But, as you can see from my cartoon, it took me a while to understand how to find peace with it, and learn that this prayer invites friendliness in my heart. 

Finally, I do not think that running or meditating are ends in themselves. They can be fun to do, make us feel good, but the greatest benefits come afterwards, when we find ourselves stronger and healthier, more confident to live our life. With grace, like the tiger.