Wisdom & Suffering of a Cheetah

Cheetah – Oriental Ink Brush Painting

Rice Paper, 40cm x 40cm

By Fiona Sheng

@InkDifferent Studio | Brussels

The fastest land animal, what a cheetah had to trade for such glory? To understand this, I believe the Chinese has an ancient word, “舍得” (shě de), which can be very useful in analysing a cheetah. Let me attempt to explain the meaning of this word first – this may be a rather difficult task. This is a word filled with philosophical wisdom, the meaning is multifold, it can mean to give up something, be willing to part with or make a trade-off with someone or something. I am certainly unsatisfied with such an explanation, so let’s break it down to take a closer look.

“舍” means to let go of, be charitable; “得” refers to a gain, an acquisition. This word is composed of these opposing concepts in this order, which is exactly where the philosophy lies – only pain leads to gain, no pain no gain, big pain has big gain and small pain leads to small gain. This is a life wisdom. This word teaches us to take an objective stance when treating the people and events around us, weigh the matters by heart, see the actual value of importance in our lives. For instance, when faced with robbery, would our 20 dollars mean more than our lives? Would the spilling of harmful words be worthwhile towards our loved ones in an heated argument? Would we regret not telling them words of love instead in retrospect? Should I get over my laziness and finish my meaningful project right now, even though I am happy and satisfied as it is? Such decisions are everywhere, confronting us everyday. All these emotions and the weighing between the loss and the gain, the generosity and stinginess, the good and the bad, the to do and not to do, everything altogether is included in the concept of “舍得”. It is an art, harmony is achieved in the delicate balancing of each pain and each gain. Today, let us look at the cheetah’s pains and gains.

cheetah on rock

“Have the will of a tiger, the speed of a cheetah, and the heart of a lion.”

– Kevin McCarty

The cheetah is a machine made for speed. A cheetah has enlarged nasal cavity, letting in more oxygen during high-speed chases; Its lung and heart are connected with the circulatory system and are equipped with strong artery and adrenal glands, allowing for efficient transmission of oxygen via blood circulation. The cheetah has a long spine and legs, paired with a streamlined body, it is quite light weight; Its spine is springy, allowing for the maximised acceleration; Its claws not retractable, acting like spiked shoes in a race, can firmly grab the ground during the run; It has a long and fluffy tail, maintaining the body balance in sharp turns; Without the restriction of the collarbones, its shoulder blades can gain the most optimised action space, wonderful for running.

But all these advantages at what cost? The enlarged nasal cavity squeezed away the mouth space, leading to smaller teeth than those of other large cats. This can be a big disadvantage in any fights; The circulation system can only sustain the cheetah to run at a speed of over 100 km/h for 3-5 minutes, anything beyond may lead to death from overheat. After each chase, a cheetah has to take 10 minutes to recover, and during which time, it is at an extremely vulnerable state – unable to guard its newly acquired food, and unable to defend itself. It cannot even take the food up in a tree for safe keeping, because the claws are too short and blunt to allow much climbing; Its lack of collarbone also renders a cheetah weak in physical combat.

In summary, strength and weakness come hand in hand in this graceful fragile yet mighty creature. The “舍” and the “得” has such clear demonstration in the cheetah. Is it worthwhile? I cannot say, but if I were to choose as a cheetah, I may very well make the same decisions.

Enjoy such cultural discussions? Have comments? I look forward to hearing from you!

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