The little mouse that had drowned in a bucket of rainwater had suddenly been discovered by our big, white Pekin duck, Ping. Her excitement at the find cued the hens to want it, too; even though they had already had a game of Run With It Until it Gets Snatched Away— with the very same dead mouse, and had gotten tired of it only a half hour before.
Its carcass had become stiff, otherwise Ping would have done what she usually does with drowned mice— when they’re early-morning finds, that is: She eats them whole, downing them in just a few toss-backs of her long neck.
Her waddle too slow to play the chook’s Run With It game, Ping stood her ground, whipping her mouse-dangling bill left and right to dodge their pecks at the loot. Raj, her drake, hoarsely whispered his best quacks in defense of his lady.
Whether you’re watching or not, animals have their own life dramas playing out each day, and if you pay attention, you may get the treat of witnessing a real life fairy tale in the making.
As humans, it’s easy to become absorbed with our own lives when things get dramatic. If there are challenges coming up, or life themes being triggered, or really just any change taking place, it’s common for us to forget we’re not the only ones plodding along through hard times.
Yes, the old uplifter of looking at your suffering-more-than-you neighbor is a good trick to boost the spirits. Although I say this tongue in cheek, there’s truth there. For one, knowing there are others slogging through the rough parts, too makes us feel like we’re all the same boat.
Noticing the plight of others can be healing because it often inspires us to an act of kindness and compassion, and helping others is a path to cultivating kindness and compassion toward oneself.
When you take this idea and apply it to the animals around you, its essence seems to become enhanced, perhaps because it’s clear within the non-human species of the world that life throws curve balls without discrimination.
If you take the time to empathize with the animals around you, pets or wild, you’ll find they have as much “stuff coming up” as you do.
For example, when you see a dog having a particularly bad day— say, if she’s walking down the sidewalk with a lick-preventing cone around her neck— it’s easier to see that it’s not personal; the dog didn’t inherently deserve to wear a cone— all dogs want to lick a wound.
Compare that to hearing news of the local bakery closing up shop because of a tax issue. Definitely hard times for them, but since they’re humans, we have a bigger tendency of pulling the old “they got what they asked for” number. Or, depending on your outlook, the “this government, I tell ya,” one.
Compassion sometimes gets jammed up between person to person, but with animals, it can be a much straighter shot.
When you’re in the thorny thick of life, feeling stressy or sorry for yourself or overwhelmed, pay attention to the animal dramas happening around you.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
This includes insects and plants, too. I think I’m having a bad day— there’s a wolf spider in my bath tub who just got mauled by my girl cat and now two of his legs are broken. Or that tomato plant that just began budding its first flower— poor dude just got nibbled down to a pathetic stump by a stoked rat in the night.
By tuning into the undercurrent of animal, insect, or plant experiences you open up a portal
that leads toward finding relief in the knowing that life’s ups and downs give us all a wild ride, regardless of what you’ve done or haven’t done to cause it.
The obvious assignment is to start noticing what the animals (or insects, plants, or any other non-human species) are going through.
Watch for the stories to emerge. See what real life fairy tales are being presented to you on a daily basis if you choose to be present for them.
The other Qi Challenge comes in the form of a Tai Chi Lesson Film, by the name of Cat Washes Face. There are three different variations of this tai chi movement, and the following video leads you through each one.
For those new to the movement, I recommend watching the lesson at least a few times through for your first practice session, and then at least once daily until the next Tai Chi Lesson Film debuts.
This Lesson Film is suitable for both beginners and seasoned practitioners alike, so please follow along. Feel free to come to me with any questions at all; I’m happy to help you refine your home practice.
Human experience can seem to be the most challenging kind; however, if you take the time to find empathy for the lives of the animals and other non-humans, you’ll find that life is impartial with it’s doling out of highs and lows.
Let this be a comfort to you when you need to cultivate a little more grace in how you move through your own.
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Compassion and Pity Speak:
Pity says, "I feel sorry for you."
Compassion says, "I lovingly stand witness to your pain while you walk your path."
Pity says, "This is not right."
Compassion says, "It will be all right."
Pity says, "I wish this wasn't happening to you."
Compassion says, "You were born for this."
Pity says, "You don't deserve this."
Compassion says, "To your credit, this has come to you."
Pity says, "You poor thing."
Compassion says, "In you I see absolute potential for triumph."
Pity says, "If only I could fix this for you."
Compassion says, "You got this."
Pity says, "Thank God it's not me."
Compassion says, "I have been where you are, I am here with you now, and I will be again in the place you now stand.”
Photograph by Brea Fisher
I saw her arm coming toward me in slow motion, her fist nearing my chest. I suddenly sent my palm up, sliding across her forearm and sticking on it. I pulled my palm down the length of her arm and caught her wrist firmly. Stepping in close to her body, I rooted into the earth and turned my waist, holding her with my other palm to the crevice of her shoulder blade.
I drew her down and held her there, her face inches from the ground, her arm twisted in the socket, and lifted awkwardly upward.
This was an act of love.
For a full minute we remained like this, until we had had enough time to soak into the responses of being in this position.
Then we switched, and it was me who found my face so near to the ground, pinned there by this person who had just been there herself, and who held me there past the point of impulse to release.
In the MogaDao Heartmind Warrior Training Program we practice partnering to learn not only applications of the forms, but to learn pyschospiritual applications for life.
The exercise I just described teaches us compassion in a very potent way.
To be held down for a prolonged amount of time brings up some pretty intense things, but to be the one holding down is often the more challenging of the two roles.
The amount of compassion this exercise cultivates is heart swelling. And there is absolutely zero space for pity.
Even though the dictionary usually includes the word compassion within its definition of the word pity, the difference between the two is great.
Even though we often feel pity with the intention of showing kindness toward another, pity weighs so heavily on the one feeling it, we’re left unable to truly support that person.
We think we’re being helpful by feeling sorry for someone who is in pain. In truth, our pity communicates to that person the image of themselves as poor, lacking, and apart from those not suffering.
Compassion moves from Love, is born of Spirit, and holds true that we are all One in essence.
One who bears the torch of Compassion stays reliable and radiates strength.
There was no room for pity while holding my gongfu sister to the ground because I knew how it felt to be there, and I knew I would be there again— not just physically, but in life in general.
We were the same.
“You were born for this.” —Master Zhenzan Dao
My sifu, Zhenzan Dao, passionately declares this one statement when my gongfu sisters and brothers and I show signs of letting the mind tell the body it cannot go on. When we feel weak, lacking, or uncomfortable during practice, we hear these words.
You were born for this.
It is a proclamation of compassion. No where in it does pity exist. It recognizes our struggle, it stands beside us in solidarity, and it sees in us the potential to rise above.
As a homework assignment Zhenzan asked us to write on the difference between pity and compassion. The passage at the beginning of this article is what I presented to my gongfu sisters and brothers.
To give you a closer sense of the experience of witnessing me read it aloud, as I did for my fellow MogaDao Heartmind Warriors, I’ve made an audio recording for you.
Close your eyes and imagine someone you know who is having a hard time— someone whose life is throwing them challenge of whatever kind, whether they are suffering from a physical illness, or another circumstance of outward misfortune.
Hold this person in your mind’s eye, and then draw them into your heart for a moment.
Now see that person’s soul standing witness to their suffering, also.
Their soul, their non-physical self, the broader part of that person, the part of that person who is spirit, who is the higher self, who is their inner being— this is who stands beside the one who is suffering in their physical reality.
Does this higher self frown and wince while standing witness?
Or does the spirit of this person stand in knowingness that this pain has significance for the one standing there embodied?
Does not the inner being of this person gaze upon her or him with eyes of pure love and respect and honor of where they stand? Can you not see well that the non-physical aspect of this person fully trusts that by experiencing whatever it is bringing the person suffering, they are given the catalyst toward reaching their own enlightenment?
Now release the two aspects of the person you brought into your heart.
And bring your own inner being to sit with you there.
See your two selves, the broader, non-physical you, the spirit you, the higher self you. And see the you you see in the mirror. Watch the scenes of yourself stumbling, crumbling, failing.
Your inner being does not falter in her compassion for you. She stands in loving empathy for your pain and simultaneously nods her head in approval and gratitude of the circumstances that brought you such suffering.
For those times of pain had as much to do with who you have become as the times of joy.
When you pity your friend, your brother, or your neighbor, you do more destruction than you realize. It is not an act of love to feel sorry for someone, and this includes feeling sorry for yourself.
To pity another is to pity yourself.
To pity yourself is to deny the truth that you are made of the same essence that creates worlds.
With compassion in your heart as you look upon a suffering sister, you embrace the knowingness that you are your sister and that no suffering happens to one person alone.
Compassion is the potent dose of light administered from— and equally to— those standing witness to the cycles of life.
May you find compassionate eyes on you when you again stumble, and may you gaze upon your fellow with compassion when they again fall.
What were you born for? How do you hold space for those suffering? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.
Leave me a comment below!
I awoke beside my love, who greeted me lovingly with a good morning. I said nothing.
I gave my cats a cuddle without words, then went outside. I patted my dog on the head, rubbed her belly, and asked her to sit with only a lift of my hand.
Every last Sunday of the month I practice Inward Honing, a full day of silence from the moment I wake to the time I rise the next day. I don’t speak and I don’t use any communicative, audio, or informational technology of any kind. No talking, no Internet, no phone, no radio, no movies.
A big YES to everything those things dilute.
Instead of composing this on my laptop as I usually do, my article-writing fell on the day of my vow of silence. I found pen and paper and scribbled out the words as they came, as if directly from my heart to the page.
The real page.
What came out was a poem— a way for you to get a glimpse into my favorite parts of Inward Honing.
Frequency of Subtleties, photograph by Brea Fisher
Divinity of Silence
When you’re silent for a day
the day feels free— yours--
like you’re on vacation
on a remote island
without the technological capabilities
for anyone to reach you,
minus the beach and the sea.
And palm trees.
you live on the coast.
When you’re silent for a day time distorts.
It feels rubbery, bendable, elastic.
Your phone is off and so your clock is also off.
You think you may know what time it is,
but you think, “I could be way off.”
And it doesn’t matter anyway.
When you’re silent for a day you move slowly--
like you’ve got all the time
in the world
and no where to be.
(The whole day is yours, after all.)
You become highly sensitive
to the small things--
the poetic things.
The tone the wind plays in the trees,
the rhythm of your heart and its communion
with your breath,
the feel of avocado on your tongue
and the accent of sea salt sprinkled on top.
You’re a snail pressing your body into the earth
to move along
and all that soil,
and all those sticks,
pebbles, grass, leaves, and
roots become a part of you.
You feel all those intricate subtleties
in your snail-paced dance through the day.
You learn their language,
you worship their shapes and textures
and gasp at their mystery
as you slime your way over them.
When you’re silent for a day
you begin to attune to yourself--
to your Self--
the broader you, the you that is more,
the you who knows
what you need.
You let the day
instead of putting on it
your earthly agenda.
The day lets you know
how it wants to have you.
When you’re silent for a day
your day becomes
I made you a Tai Chi Lesson film so you can get a taste of the slowness in which I love to relish during Inward Honing.
In it you’ll learn Tai Chi Walking: walking slowly, with intention, shifting from stance to stance with arms relaxed at the sides.
Please follow along as you watch. The movements are excellent for both beginners and seasoned practitioners alike. You’ll need about six to eight feet of walking space, depending on the size of your steps.
I look forward to the day of Inward Honing like a child before Christmas Day. It is the day I know I don’t need to be anywhere, or do anything specific. It’s the day I have permission to be fully unavailable to anyone other than myself. And in that space I find what really matters, so that I can communicate that out to the world when I do go back out there.
If you’d like to practice Inward Honing, you can join the growing number of practitioners all over the globe. To receive guidance and inspiration on the practice, sign up by sending a simple email stating your interest to email@example.com. My sifu, Master Zhenzan Dao will send you a potent letter before each day of silence, which will help focus your practice each month, and also connect you energetically to the others joining you in Inward Honing. You can find more information by clicking the link for Inward Honing at MogaDao.com.
Have you practiced a vow of silence before? If so, what have you gained from it? If not, would you like to? Let me know what comes up for you around it. I’ll do my best to hear you out and if you want guidance on how to move past the obstacles keeping you from committing to it, just ask.
Leave me a comment below!