Once there was a man who loved to climb mountains…When I tell the story, it’s a man who climbs the mountains. I like to think of myself, when I was younger, when I used to climb mountains. In France, when I lived there, in the Alps. In a few minutes this story will belong to you and you can change it however you like.
So, this man he loved to climb mountains. One beautiful day he decided to make an ascent by himself an easy climb, just for the exhilaration of it, a few moments of pleasure. He put his hand on the cool rock surface, found his holds, and up he went. In a few seconds he was up twenty feet. In a minute he was a hundred feet high. He paused to look out over the tops of the trees and up to the sky, and farther up the mountain. Up he went, climbing easily two hundred feet, three hundred, five hundred.
The day was glorious. He felt the breeze and the mist coming off the falls. He might close his eyes for a few seconds and bathe in the warmth of the sun. When he opened his eyes, the green of the valley below him was glorious, glorious. He was in love with the rock under his feet, the sky above, the trees below. What a wonderful day!
He looked at the rock face to see where to go next. There was a traverse across the face, a simple traverse. He could do that safely, he thought, and he started across, placing his feet carefully. Without warning, a piece of shale gave way under his feet, and he found himself sliding down the face of the rock, then falling over the edge.
Instinctively, he reached out and grabbed a vine. The vine stopped his fall. He found himself in shock, swinging on the vine, ten, twenty feet down from the edge of the cliff.
“Can you feel that: The shock of suddenly finding yourself in such a precarious situation when you thought everything was safe?
When the shock wore off, he examined his situation. He was dangling on a vine. The rock sloped away from him. He could not touch it. He looked up and knew he would not be able to make his way back up to safety. He looked down and there was a thousand feet of empty space below him. The realization dawned on him he was going to fall. He could not hold on to the vine forever.
But he had not fallen yet. He had not fallen yet.
After a while you get used to anything, you know? After a while he got used to hanging on the vine, a thousand feet high. It became easier to hang on the vine. He could use less strength than he thought. He had more energy for other things.
But what other things are there when you’re hanging on a vine a thousand feet high?
He could pay better attention to the world around him. He felt the breeze and the mist on his face. The blue of the sky was deeper than he had ever known. The beauty of the mountains and the valley nearly made his heart explode.
He could hear the beat of his heart, feel the pulse in his neck. He was aware of the breath coming in through his nostrils. There was so much to do there on the vine. He never could have imagined there would be so much to do.
At last he looked at the vine itself, the brown cords that were strong enough to hold him, the green leaves, the red strawberries. It was a strawberry vine, and he had only just seen it. The strawberries were ripe.
Now this is a story. This is the whole story . Everything up to this point is to prepare you for this. He took one of the ripe strawberries and he put it into his mouth, and he tasted it.
What did that strawberry taste like? How did that strawberry taste to him:
Can you taste it? Can you taste the strawberry?
Can you feel it in your touch on your tongue?
What would it be like to taste everything like that? To see everything with that man’s clarity? To hear things, see things, feel things like that?
That’s the story.
REFLECTION: This is a Zen story taken from The Seventh Telling, The Kabbalah of Moshe Katan by Mitchell Chefitz. The author encourages the reader to tell the story to others so that the story will deepen in meaning each time it is told. So I am telling it to you.
Other versions of the Zen tale add black and white mice chewing the vine and a tiger pacing overhead.