“Tiger, Tiger burning bright

In the forests of the night.

What immortal hand or eye

            Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”           

    William Blake

There is a familiar ring to this poem.  Most of us probably had to read it in English Literature.  I remember doing so as a kid.  I read it and moved on, probably not thinking much more about it.

Reading it now, however, has a much larger charge for me.  Because, now, I think about tigers differently than I used to.  And wanting to continue to explore the dual nature of the human psyche with you, a tiger story comes to mind.  Remember my bias that we all have both a ‘scared one’ and a ‘sacred one’ inside us.

The ‘scared one’ is ashamed of him/herself.  The ‘scared one’ is programmed by family, school, church, peers, etc. to carry culture. The local cultural conditioning process happens unawares.  Much of the interaction with the child occurs without awareness on the part of the grown-ups.  People do with their offspring something similar to what was done with them or they overcompen-sate in rebellion to the parenting they received.

So we have explored how the ‘scared one’ feels inadequate and insecure as a result of our long period of dependency upon parents or parental figures. 

Not being adequate to care for ourselves in the jungle that is the world, every child will have feelings of inadequacy.

“Dad, can I go down to the store and get some candy?”

“No, you can’t.  You’re only six years old.  You haven’t learned to be paranoid yet.  Get back in here.  Maybe I’ll take you later.  And it’s not can I, but may I.”

“Dad, what’s paranoid?”

“What? Oh, you wouldn’t understand.  Now go bother your mother.”

While we all have this secret that we share yet don’t discuss, there is another secret that likewise, we share and do not discuss.  While there is much agreement about the presence of the 'scared one’ there is more controversy about the existence of the ‘sacred one.’

This is the luminous aspect of our humanness.  This sacred component is not a product of conditioning.  It is not burdened with egocentric vision.  It is, however, often covered by psychological brushwood.  The ‘scared one’ is in hiding, the ‘sacred one’ is hidden, so deeply hidden one may think it nonexistent.

But, let’s come back to the poem and a Tiger story that will help clear away some of the brushwood.  This is an ancient story, one I heard a wonderful storyteller, Joseph Campbell, tell years ago.  I wouldn’t presume his skill as a raconteur, but this story is one I’ll always remember.


            A pregnant tigress is on the prowl hungry for goat.  She comes to a clearing and spots a herd of goats grazing at a distance.  She stealthily slips up on the herd and picks out her prey.  Slowly she moves in for the kill, and leaps upon her victim.  But while she was in midair, the goat changed position.  So when she landed upon her meal, two sharp goat horns pierced her heart.  In the moment of contact, she sustained a mortal wound and lay dying in the grass.

           The traumatized goat is dazed, yet very aware of the closeness of the call.  He just saw his little goat life flash before his eyes.  He can hardly believe he’s not badly injured when he notices the spectacle.

            In her dying moments, the pregnant tiger’s uterus begins to contact and she delivers a beautiful little tiger cub.

            The goat is amazed at the miracle.  Out of this death comes new life.  “Wow!  What a beautiful little tiger cu….b… Wait a minute!  That’s a tiger.  I’m a goat. Tigers eat  goats.  This is a problem.”

           So the young goat goes to get the goat elders.  They come over to investigate the situation“Let’s see now.  That’s a tiger.  We’re goats.  Tigers eat goats.  Yep, it’s a problem.  But, hey, wait a minute.  She doesn’t know she’s a tiger.  We won’t tell her. 

            We’ll just just raise her like a goat.  She’ll eat goat food instead of goat.  Yeah, that’s the   ticket. 

            She’ll live her little goat life with the herd.  She’ll live like us and be like us.  Sure, it’ll work.”

            Time passes and it’s as the elder said.  The little tigress lives a goat life eating goat food instead of goat and moves as one with the herd.  Things go along smoothly. The tigress isn’t growing into her full, mature tiger self because she’s eating grass instead of goat.  And her secret identity is hidden from the tigress.

            Then one day, a large female tiger comes along hungry for goat.  She catchers the scent of the herd and tracks them down.  She begins to select her prey when …WHAT?…she notices a tiger grazing with the herd.

            Astonished at these events, the tigress forgets about her hunger and runs out from cover to satisfy her curiosity.  The herd dashes away, but the large mature tigress is much faster than the goat-tiger and catches her easily.

            “What the heck are you doing out here with these goats.  Don’t you know you’re a tiger and tigers eat goats?”

            The young one looks up at the mature one and says, “Baaaah, Baaaah”

            The big tiger cannot believe her ears.  “What!!  That’s not what tigers say.  Tigers say,  GRRRRR!   GRRRRRR!

            And her booming roar blasts the little one’s ears back.  But all she can muster is another, “Baaaaah,  Baaaaah.”

            No matter what the mature tigress does, she cannot convince the young one of her true tiger nature.  Until finally, she spots a quiet pool of water nearby.  She moves over to drink and sees her image reflecting up to her.  She calls the young one over and says,  “Here, put your head here next to mine above the pond.  Now, you see those eyes, you see those whiskers, you see those stripes??”

            “Stripes!  What??!  Can it be??!” thought the little goat-tiger.  In an instant the truth was revealed. “See, you are a tiger like me.  You are meant to live a different life than the one you have known.  Come with me.”

 And off she went to live her true tiger life.

You see the problem?  We are all born tigers and taught to be goats.  We live our goat lives, eating goat food and moving with the herd.  We feel inadequate and easily let others ‘get our goat.’  Or, to compensate for our feelings of inadequacy, we become a bully and ‘Billy’ other goats.

The story then reveals the dynamics we have been discussing.  The ‘scared one’ bleating out anxious tones from a fearful hiding spot.  Or the ‘Big One’ picking on other smaller goats to establish dominance.  Reinforcing the feelings of inadequacy in others, the bully reveals his secret.  He is unaware of his modus operandi until a still larger one appears and his tail drops between his legs in submission to the new alpha figure.

The ‘scared one/Big One’ and the goat are synonymous.  And we all have a ‘scared one’ inside.  But that is not an accurate picture of our entire nature.  That is programming absorbed by osmosis from our local environs.  We are imprinted early to think goat thoughts and move with the herd.  We replicate ourselves and teach our children to do the same.

But then, there is this Other One, this tiger self, this essential self that waits to be discovered. 

“Tiger, Tiger burning bright.”

This luminous ‘sacred one’ who is hidden behind the conditioning of a lifetime. 

“What immortal hand or eye did frame thy fearful symmetry?” 

And when this one remembers, re-members, reconnects to the “immortal hand” that birthed a universe, look out!!

Because we have feelings of inadequacy doesn’t mean we’re inadequate.  Because we have fears, doesn’t mean we can’t face them to see what they have to teach us.  For it may be only in facing what we fear the most that we discover our true stripes. GRRRRRRRR!

We experience our core “burning bright” and this light illuminates a new way.  The familiar is seen with a sense of possibility.  Our confusion gives way to a brief moment of clarity.  We see through the illusion of who we thought we were to live for an instant what we actually are.

And that moment, that one instant of direct knowing also reveals to us who is hidden within everyone else.  And though we cannot hold that moment, its memory holds us, enfolds us.  It informs all we do thereafter, the moment we remember, because our energy follows our attention.

Hey you!  Yeah You!  To what are you paying attention??  Are you busting your butt trying to keep up with the herd?  Exhausting, isn’t it!  Your energy follows your attention.  What you pay attention to, you have energy for.

Pay attention to your true tiger nature and you have the energy for living out your true tiger life.  In those moments you become a metaphorical pond for others to see their true reflection in the deep pools of your tiger eyes.