Keep your eye on the tiger, and your tongue on the parrot

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 4, Part 6 of 17 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

Student: In the New Age-y interpretation they talk about, “Oh yeah, you need to stop rushing around doing and start being.” And then, well, what does that mean? Sitting still? And it doesn’t really mean sitting still.

CTT: Well, you see, it’s the human dilemma. We have a language, and we think we know what we mean, and then something really interesting and rewarding happens to you and you want to tell people about it, and you seize on the words that you know, and they may convey a very special meaning for you, and other people don’t know them or understand them at all.

I’m thinking of a very funny instance. It’s probably not politically correct, but it’s so damn funny. In a group I was in once, we had a Chinese Tai Chi teacher come in who was very, very good. He gave us a lot of lectures, as well as showing us his Tai Chi exercises. He really confused me at one point, though, when he talked about the importance of “keeping the tongue on the parrot.”

Now I really tried to figure that out. I figured the dragon is a very important mythological animal in Chinese. What did the parrot represent, right? What’s the deep symbolic meaning of keeping your tongue on the parrot?

Well, of course he meant palate.


It took me months before I finally realized, oh – what a stupid mistake! But I’m sure he thought he was explaining it very clearly, and I thought I knew what he was talking about.

Student: All that time you didn’t know?

CTT: Some of you are still just getting it, right?

Student: You like, show up with this parrot.


Student: I got it, guys. So whatever.

CTT: Yeah. It seemed a very powerful symbol. You know? A very dramatic bird.

Student: It is powerful, because a parrot just regurgitates what it’s learned to express, and doesn’t necessarily add anything of the tongue.

CTT: And so by keeping your tongue on there, you were –


Student: Yeah, you can’t talk when you got your tongue on a parrot

Note added in 2010: I should have explained to my students at the time that keeping the tip of one’s tongue on the upper palate, just behind the teeth, is to aid the microcosmic circulation of ki or chi energy postulated/experienced in Taoism.  To this day I still do that most of the time and can feel a subtle shift in the quality of my consciousness toward more clarity when my tongue is on my palate…..

One comment

  1. Not long ago I participated in a study of Near Death Experiences. One of the questions asked was if the experience was something that couldn’t be adequately described using words. I checked that off as being absolutely true. My experience was something not possible to convey in words. Once that was established, the next part of the questionnaire asks you to go ahead and describe your experience.

    I like the thing about putting one’s tongue on the palate. I’m going to remember to do that now because of your story! 🙂

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