By Dana Gornall
A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge.
The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted! ~ Buddhist parable
I have a theory about parenting.
It may not be an actual theory, per se, but maybe more like thoughts. I was chatting with a friend yesterday and told her that figuring out parenting was sort of like being given scuba equipment without any lessons and being told to dive off the boat. You either spend the entire time trying not to drown, trying to know when to come up for air, or just enjoying the scenery. Most likely, it is a combination of all three.
Everyone says there is no handbook on parenting, but in truth there are thousands of handbooks, and no real way to understand which one is the best. In general, you end up spending the rest of the time with a “try it and see” approach. And then you just…maintain.
Maintenance. Seems like an easy concept.
In fitness and nutrition it can mean bumping (or lowering) your calories to your total daily energy expenditure, meaning not eating more or less than what you burn throughout the day, thus maintenance. But this is a little trickier than one might think. We aren’t robots and so things change day to day—both with our activity and our need/desire for food. Maintaining is in some ways constant guessing and re-configuring, and in that way, a lot of work to keep things as is at status quo.
I’ve been trying to maintain for as long as I can remember with just about everything.
Maintain my household finances with balancing not overworking and definitely not under-working. Maintain being an involved parent without being an overbearing parent, firm but also flexible. Maintain a social life despite being introverted and a good year of requiring to social distance anyway. Maintain a career that is stagnant, yet also feeling this deep inner fear of where to go with it next. Maintain a meditation practice despite many days not feeling the motivation or energy to sit. Maintaining a yoga practice and flexibility in my body with a studio that has shut down.
The problem with maintenance? You don’t get…anywhere.
No moving backward, and definitely no moving forward. You spend your entire time, day in and day out, treading water in the same spot so you don’t drown. That’s okay for a bit, and even restful. But while it may feel safer, it can be exhausting too.
I’ve often written about this situation of being in between—on the edge of either going this way or that. I even had a long conversation with a therapist once about being on the fence. “Sitting on fence is not very comfortable, is it?” she remarked. And while it definitely isn’t, it also seems to be where I have resided most of my life.
Just like the Buddhist parable with the man hanging from the vine with a tiger at the top and a tiger at the bottom and two mice gnawing at the vine, we can be stuck in between. Yet what does he do? He find a strawberry, and delights in the taste. I’m sure there are many theories on the meaning behind this, but for me it’s all about being present before we make the next move.
Obviously maintaining won’t last forever.
Obviously in my case, my kids are no longer children and everything is shifting again. They will be moving on (they are moving on) and I am stuck with not knowing what my role is in this chapter. Obviously I should flip a few switches and take steps to change up my career or bump up my spiritual practice. Sitting on a reef under water and trying to know when to come up for more air, it’s time to re-adjust.
For today though, I’ll take the strawberry. And I’ll hang on and enjoy the scenery in my scuba equipment.