Riding the tiger

Photo courtesy of jinterwas on Flickr

“The one who rides the tiger can never get off.” —Chinese proverb

What does that ancient wisdom mean to you? After I stumbled upon the proverb recently I found different interpretations.

1.Once you decide to tackle a powerful challenge, you can never give up.

Very few people choose to “ride the tiger,” or take on powerful challenges. Why would they, when a comfy life without peril is an option? Most people choose paths with multiple outlets,  and contingency plans. Safe, but not very interesting. Those who do step up to the fierce and noble animal must do so knowing that they are in for a wild ride that they must see through to the end.

2. If you connect yourself with something dangerous, it will attack you if you decide to disengage.

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,” Michael Corleone says in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. We need to choose our companions carefully, because the dangerous ones don’t want us to stop the wild ride. Wrong associations, drugs, bad business deals, and many other choices entrap us. They are a tiger that allows petting at first but once mounted shows its fangs.

3. Once you set yourself on the path of enlightenment, you will not be able to stop. 

“One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions,” Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr wrote. He wasn’t referring to spiritual growth but it applies, because once a person opens up to enlightening ideas, they can never go back to the way life was before.

4. People often set off on paths that lead them to get trapped by their own wants, desires or prejudices.

Life can eat us alive. The title, position, status, or persona we have built may choke us, but we refuse to relinquish it.We may take on more and more until we are overloaded and incapacitated. We refuse to stop or escape, making us a prisoner of our own keeping.

5. Society is addicted to technologies and science.

We rely on our fume-spewing automobiles. Could we imagine life without our power-depended gadgets? Each scientific advancement brings the need for more science to solve a new problems born out of the new technology, in an endless quest for utopia.

That’s a wide variety of interpretations for sure, and all apt in their own way. What does riding the tiger mean to you?


5 thoughts on “Riding the tiger

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      Well, I would say that both are problems. My goodness, but the world is full of problems. I would have difficulty saying that our focus should come down to one or the other – and they are intertwined in some cases anyway.

  1. wiredogstories

    I hadn’t heard the expression before, but I can see that it can have positive or negative interpretations. In our culture we often talk about the Rat Race or being on the treadmill, but I do like the notion that riding the tiger can be enlightening, or challenging in a positive sort of way and the Rat Race and Treadmill expressions don’t have that same kind of dual meaning. I like it. Thanks. I am going to think about it today to see what kind of tiger I am riding.

  2. roughwighting

    My immediate reaction is that I ride the tiger every day. As soon as I wake up, I think, ‘what do I have on the docket today? Will I succeed? Can I help my little grandchild love to read? Can I keep my guy healthy and happy? Can I write another 500 words, finish a blog post, make my creative writing class meaningful to my students? Can I find time to dance or walk and MOVE today, stretch into a yogic pose? Will I smile enough and appreciate every minute?’ Yup, I feel like I ride the tiger EVERY DAY.


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