internet lore has it that according to thomas cleary, one of the most prolific translators of buddhist and other eastern texts, yesterday’s strawberry story originally has a different ending.
in that version, the delicious strawberry that the cliff-hanger pops into his mouth is poisonous.
so picture this: this poor guy gets chased by tigers, runs off a cliff, grabs onto a vine, the vine is being chewed off by two mice, and the strawberry he finds as he hangs on for dear life is poisonous!
it’s easy to see this as an extremely pessimistic story.
but let’s not forget: this is a story.
the wonderful thing about stories is that we can interpret them any which way we please. it is our interpretation that turns on the power of stories.
we can take this story as a fable, a tale of morality – and even there we have various interpretations. for example
- don’t put yourself in the way of tigers
- don’t cave in to temptation (= the strawberry) in the face of stress
- we have no control over our lives
we can also take a story the way we look at a painting: oh, look, there’s a tiger! and over here, a strawberry! and what’s this? a mouse? if we do this, there is no judgment, no good or bad, just noticing what’s in front of us.
stories can be used as a starting point for other stories. we can change any part of it. for example, when i told this story yesterday, i was very tempted to tell it from the point of view of a woman. another possibility would be to let the hunted person turn around and face the tiger.
from another point of view, any story, and of course particularly zen stories, can be seen as koans, as paradoxical riddles that cannot be comprehended with a linear mind but which, when finally grasped intuitively, open us up to transformation.
undoubtedly there are more ways to look at stories.
and then there are the stories of our lives. each life is a long story, part of even bigger stories – the stories of our families, communities, countries. at the same time, each life story consists of a patchwork of many small stories.
again, both our big life story and our little every-day-stories are open to interpretation and change.
for example, if anya’s story has always been that she ends up the one cleaning up after everything and everyone – does it have to stay this way? why not write a different ending next time and stay and sip a little more wine while finally someone else does the dishes after the party?
or if peter tells himself that his divorce was so traumatic, he just can’t stop drinking – he could look at how else he can interpret the story of his divorce. yes, the divorce can mean that he is driven to drink, but it can also mean that he’s ready for a better relationship, or that he could actually stop drinking because that would make it easier for him to enjoy himself more.
if our life is a story, then we can be the authors, editors and actors of it. we don’t have to have anyone else write our script or direct us.
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