From the time humans first walked the Earth, we have been telling stories. Stories have multiple purposes – to provide entertainment, to record necessary information, and to impart lessons to our offspring in a way they will listen and absorb them. Stories are ancient teaching methods that affect the conscious, intellectual mind, but also the subconscious mind that thrives on imagery and symbolism.
Sometimes, stories help us define who we are, and who we are not.
There is an ancient teaching story about a ravenously hungry, pregnant tiger who comes across a herd of goats while she is out hunting. Starving and tired from searching for food all day, she is driven to attack and kill goat after goat in a frenzy, running and chasing them down hard, desperate to feed herself and nurture the cub growing within her. She ends up collapsing in exhaustion and dies while giving birth to her cub.
When the goats dare return to the field, they find the small and helpless newborn cub lying next to his dead mother’s body. They commune and the female goats decide to adopt the tiny cub as their own, despite the damage its mother has done to their herd. They nurture and tend to it, raising it in their ways, and soon the little cub starts repeating the behaviors of those he is surrounded by. He begins bleating like a goat, and eating grass like a goat, and roaming with the goat herd, completely unaware of his own uniqueness. His tiger instincts are suppressed and ignored as he grows into a young and healthy tiger who behaves far more like a goat, and who fully accepts and sees himself as one of the herd.
One day, a big male tiger comes across the herd and the panicked goats all scatter to the four winds for safety, except for the little tiger, who strangely does not move. He’s a year old now and senses some kind of connection, some affinity, with the older tiger.
The big tiger approaches the young tiger and says, “What’s wrong with you?”
“What do you mean, what’s wrong with me?” the young tiger asks, confused.
“Well, you’re acting really weird. You’re acting like a goat.”
The little tiger responds matter-of-factly, “But, I am a goat!”
This perplexes the big tiger, who says quite confidently and firmly, “No you’re not a goat. You’re a tiger.”
The big tiger leads the little tiger over to a pond with a still, reflective surface and says, “Now look down at yourself in the water. Really look at yourself.”
The little tiger looks down at his reflection on the surface of the pond, then he looks up at the big tiger. His wide eyes show a mix of confusion and fear.
Feeling sympathy, the big tiger says, “Come with me,” and he takes the little tiger back to his den where there is some leftover meat from a gazelle he recently hunted and killed.
“Eat this,” he tells the little tiger.
The little tiger looks down at the meat-covered bone and scrunches his nose in disgust. “No way, I’m a vegetarian!” he says.
The big tiger says, “Just try it.”
The little tiger slowly, hesitantly reaches over and takes a small bite of the gazelle meat off the bone. When he tastes the meat, he chokes on it at first, but forces himself to swallow it down. As the meat reaches his bloodstream, he suddenly stretches out his long body and bares his sharp claws. He opens his mouth wide and for the first time lets out, instead of a goat’s trembling bleat, a little roar.
It’s not a very ferocious roar by any means, and certainly not at all like the mighty and fearsome roar he will one day, as a tiger, be capable of. But that first roar in this ancient teaching story is called the “roar of awakening,” the first moment when this being recognizes that he isn’t who he thought himself to be. That he isn’t who others told him he was. He begins, in that awakening moment, to feel something stirring deep within – a questioning of his identity, a reassessing of his capability, and a new understanding of his sense of self. He comes to realize that he isn’t limited to the kind of life he has been living and there is way, way more to him than a goat’s existence.
He is, in fact, not a goat at all!
He is a tiger, and it is time for him to fully embrace and express his “tigerness.”
This story is true for us all as we struggle to find and keep our true, authentic selves in a world filled with external influences and advice that would have us believe we are this or that or what others want or need us to be. The first time we hear someone say, or we come to the point in our lives where we dare say to ourselves, “You are way more than you know,” or perhaps, “You contain far much more than you’ve ever thought,” or “You are powerful beyond measure,” our default reaction is to choke on it or bury it down and respond with, “No, nope. Not me, I’m not that. I could never be that.”
We do this whenever we argue for our limitations or ignore the call of our own inner voice, and the sad thing is, we get to keep those limitations, those falsehoods, of who we really are, even when a good look at our reflection in a mirror or the smooth, still surface of a pond tells us a different truth.
Like the tiger cub, denying our own awakening happens every time we revert back to the goat version of our identity and refuse to allow ourselves to roar.