Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Richard Parker

credit: Life of Pi movie

Tigers are exciting. Their lithe, rippling movements are fascinating. They are ready to spring, playful, stunning in the beauty of their markings. They are fierce and animal, tigers in every way.
In Life of Pi, Pi was saddled with a tiger in his boat, drifting and lost in the vast ocean.. He and the tiger formed an arrangement. Although Pi believed he had trained the tiger, there was an understanding that at any time the tiger could attack and kill him. Therefore, a certain dependency ensued, with the tiger relying on Pi for food and Pi relying on the tiger to not eat him, and to even protect him.
Pi attributed human qualities to the tiger at times. The tiger's very name was Richard Parker. When their little boat washed ashore in Mexico, Pi was heartbroken that Richard Parker just lopped off into the woods without "saying goodbye". His  gestalt came when he declared that the tiger kept him alive.
I have tigers in my life. Most often I invite them in, attribute human qualities to them, and bring them into my boat, set up an arrangement, and rely on their protection. These days, I am questioning why I need a tiger in my life.
I have wondered if the answer is in how Pi said the tiger kept him alive. Even though he thought he was keeping the tiger alive, the tiger triggered in him a state of hypervigilance enabling him to think on his feet and mobilize limited resources for survival. Once he got to shore though, he was heartbroken and moved on, because you cannot go chasing and bringing back a tiger to make him say goodbye. Tigers, as attractive as they are, are still animals. They will accept you into their realm as long as you have something to feed them, or are of use to them somehow. But they cannot be reasoned with, demonstrate empathy, show compassion, or forgive, for those are human characteristics. A tiger will always be a tiger. Pleading, cajoling, and classical conditioning will not change that. Pi ended up sad that the tiger did not acknowledge him in the end. The truth is the tiger was not capable of acknowledging him.
But what if you can't just put your tiger on the shore? What if you have tiger children that you have to place in the tiger's boat from time to time? Wha if you have to see the tiger every day at work? Or the market? This is what I struggle with...finding a place for the tiger in my life that does not involve me placing qualities on the tiger that are not congruent with the state of being a tiger, and making the tension and conflict  of interacting with a tiger does not become a need. It causes me suffering.
So I try to not become sad when the tiger says "I won't be a tiger, I promise" and then acts like a tiger.
I wonder, is fear is what I know of being alive, of being human? Is this why I have called tigers into my life?
Tigers are everywhere: in government, big business, and anywhere there is a definite discarding of human qualities in favor of a base, animal nature. We even call this "dog eat dog" to describe ambitions that do not count the human cost, ambitions that are rooted somehow in survival, and nevertheless, cause suffering in other humans.
In humans, there is a fragility that arises in adopting a tiger-ish, narrow view of what is tolerable, a headlong drive to the top. And what is tolerable does not include other people. Which is why the tiger must roar and hiss and scratch and keep you out of his narrow tiger world and discovering how frail and scared he really is.
I read an article that spoke of our survival in regards to parents and parenting:
The attachment system is a primary motivational system similar to other primary motivational systems for eating and reproduction.  It developed over millions of years of evolution involving the selective predation of children.  Predators are seeking the old, the weak, and the young. 
Children are prey animals.
Children who bonded to parents, i.e., to specific individual people, received parental protection from predators.  Children who bonded less strongly to parents fell prey to predators (and other environmental dangers).  Over millions of years of the increased survival advantage provided to children from bonding to their parents, a very strong and resilient primary motivational system developed that strongly motivates children’s bonding to parents.
Bad parents expose the child to predation and to other environmental dangers. Children who rejected bad parents died. Children who were MORE STRONGLY motivated to bond to bad parents had a better chance of survival than children who rejected bad parents. Over millions of years of evolution involving the selective survival advantage provided to children from an INCREASED motivation to bond to bad parents, the attachment system expresses an INCREASED child motivation toward bonding to bad parents.

So you see, bonding to something we consider "bad" or dangerous has a survival intention. Adults do this type of bonding too. Pi bonded to a predator, and so did I, and even though it has afforded me some illusion of protection, it has also afforded me sorrow. Like Pi, I can change my mourning and sorrow into something good, and use wounds from the tiger to transform and thrive. Now, I have a gift. I can smell tigers from a mile away and avoid them like the plague. I also have a liability in that I become a powerless, afraid-of-tigers person and yet again try to persuade the tiger to act like a human. I'm undergoing Yoda training to help me with that.
There is an Indian story that relates to this, about a boy who is persuaded by a snake. The snake wants the boy to pick him up and put him inside his cloak, and the boy resists, saying, "you will bite me!" The snake insists that he will not bite, that it is ok. When the boy picks up the snake and places him inside his cloak, the snake bit him. The boy, incensed, asks the snake "Why did you bite me? You said you wouldn't bite!" The snake replies, "yes, that is true, but you knew I was a snake when you picked me up."
I have picked up snakes and yoked myself to tigers. Collectively, as a culture, we have picked up snakes and invited tigers to make decisions for our daily lives. We know they are snakes, we know they are tigers, and still we expect something different. Tigers and snakes have their roles, and if anything, and ideally, lead us to our humanity.

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