Once upon a time* there was a tigress who was about to give birth. One day when she was out hunting she came upon a herd of goats. She gave chase, and even in her condition, managed to kill one of them, but the stress of the chase forced her into labor, and she died as she gave birth to a male cub. The goats, who had run away, returned when they sensed that the danger was over. Approaching the dead tigress, they discovered the newborn cub and adopted him into their herd.
The tiger cub grew up among the goats believing he, too, was a goat. He bleated as well as he could, he smelled like a goat, and ate only vegetation; in every respect he behaved like a goat. Yet within him beat the heart of a tiger.
All went well until the day that an older tiger approached the goat herd and attacked and killed one of the goats. The rest of the goats ran away as soon as they saw the old tiger, but our tiger/goat saw no reason to run away, of course, as he sensed no danger. The old tiger did not know what to make of this full-grown tiger who smelled like a goat, bleated like a goat, and in every other way acted like a goat. Not particularly sympathetic, the old tiger grabbed the young one by the scruff of the neck, dragged him to a nearby creek, and showed him his reflection in the water. But the young one was unimpressed with his own reflection; it meant nothing to him and he failed to see his similarity to the old tiger.
Frustrated by his lack of comprehension, the old tiger dragged the young one back to the place where he had made his kill. There he ripped a piece of meat from the dead goat and shoved it into the mouth of our young friend.
We can well imagine the young tiger’s shock and consternation. At first he gagged and tried spitting out the raw flesh, but the old tiger was determined to show the young one who he was, so he made sure the cub swallowed this new food, and this time there was a change.
Our young tiger now allowed himself to taste the raw flesh and the warm blood, and he ate this piece with gusto. When he finished chewing, the young tiger stretched, and then for the first time in his young life, he let out a powerful roar–the roar of a jungle cat. Then the two tigers disappeared together into the forest.
The young tiger’s roar is called the “roar of awakening.” This “roar of awakening” is the discovery that we are more than we think we are. It is the discovery that we have taken on identities that incorrectly or inadequately express our essential being. It is as though we awaken from the dream, look around, and become aware of a totally different reality.
* excerpted and adapted from the prologue of Embracing Ourselves, by Drs. Hal & Sidra Stone (1989)
Spirituality and Identity
Every major spiritual tradition has at the heart of its spirituality the process of coming to know your true self, who you really are, your divinely given identity. I’m inspired in Jesus’ story how many times God “roars” from heaven to affirm his true identity: “You are my son, the one I love. I’m so proud of you.”
And in one of the more poignant vignettes, Jesus looks at his disciples and asks them an identity question: “Who are people saying I am?” And then driving it closer to home, “Who do you say I am?”
It’s the “roar of awakening” to this truth about ourselves that empowers us to live like the tigers we are (not the goats we think we are). When we’re confused or in the dark about our spiritual identity, we get stuck, we live in the shadows of our truth, and false selves rise up to control us. We become insecure, uncertain, anxious, fearful, allowing other people and circumstances to control our sense of value and worth and direction. Our roaring turns to bleating.
In contrast, when you know who you are, you have an internal confidence and courage to live with deep compassion even when it looks like weakness.
Jesus’ Radical Example
Jesus reveals this self-assurance and engages in his most radical and unselfish act in the upper room the night before he’s executed:
3 “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.” (John 13)
Jesus lives in perfect alignment with his essence, his identity as Son of God. He’s completely clear about who he is, why he’s here, and where he’s going. So he acts again and again in courage and boldness, even in the face of tremendous opposition which ultimately leads to his execution.
In the next few blogs, I’m going to talk about how we get back our “roar of awakening.” What tends to keep us from seeing ourselves as the tigers we are and instead thinking we’re goats? How can we wake up to our truth, to God’s truth about us? And how does that truth empower us to live boldly? Stay tuned.
A Year of Awakening the Roar
What do you say you and I make the year 2012 “the Roar of Awakening.” Let’s choose to step into all the power of our true essence not just some of it. Let’s do whatever it takes to clear away the obstacles keeping us from being our Truth. Like Jesus, let’s be so clear on who we are that we are radically empowered to live a world-transforming compassion. Because that’s who we really are! It’s time to awaken our roar!