I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.
In the Asian arts, there is always this talk of balance – balance of the mind, body, and spirit. Very noble statement, but with pain and injury come mixed emotions culminating into questions. How can you have balance if you can only concentrate on the body? How can you purify yourself with poisoning thoughts? How does spirit compete with mind and body? How can you move beyond the physical self?
About a year ago, I was driving to work, taking back roads to avoid traffic and save time. On a two-lane road, traffic slowed down a bit, and I wondered if there was an accident ahead. I crawled with the other cars and saw nothing until the car in front of me pulled away. I stopped my car because something to the left of the road caught my eye. It was a goose.
This goose was standing right on the white line on the side of the road, head held high, somehow resolute to do something. Cars stopped coming and going for this determined bird, and I prayed that nothing would harm it. I was just a little panicked as I watched the goose. I felt it say to me, “I am going to cross THIS road.”
He began to walk across, and I noticed he was limping. It seemed his right foot was damaged somehow, had healed, and made him lame. He limped across the road and stopped in the middle, on the yellow line. I thought, what is this he is doing? I felt so worried for this lame goose limping across the road, and wished he would hurry so that traffic would not kill him and he would be safe – and that I would not have to worry anymore.
So, he was stopped in the middle of the road. At this point, he looked over his back and made a small honk noise. His mate and two goslings came out from the bushes. They joined him, and he limped across the road vigilantly, escorting his family protectively. I had a front row view of this amazing scene. He ensured their safe passage, and I never was the same.
We all suffer damage in Aikido. I challenge anyone to show me someone who is dedicated to the practice that does not have an injury of some kind. I have had many injuries – psychological, emotional, and physical damage – suffered during my practice of Aikido.
It would be very easy for me to practice self-pity. Every day my left knee reminds me that it is damaged. Every day my right shoulder reminds me that it will never function the way it did before. I get so frustrated and scared doing technique because of my fear of further damage. It would be easy for me to say, “poor hurt me” and “why me” and “feel sorry for me”, to think this way would be poisonous to my spirit. Instead, how can I have the feeling of courage through the balance of body, mind, and spirit?
Me...injury...disfigurement...living with it...courage...the goose.
I had never seen such bravery against the odds in my life. This goose walked in a way to accommodate his serious injury – still he walked. He did not stop living or stop taking care of his family – still he was a father and provider. That goose with the lame foot stopped traffic – so highly dangerous, something that kills so many animals – still he did this. He held his head so high, so bravely. Did he know he had no self-pity and only courage?
Did that goose feel sorry for himself for one minute? Did he have any doubt about taking care of his family, about going from one side of the road to the other? Did he feel like less of a goose because he was physically damaged?
Did he set out that day to change my thought process about self-pity?
It is very possible for a teacher to teach a student without the student realizing that she is being taught. I was looking for answers, and I was waiting for someone to teach me. I didn’t realize I was being taught, but when the lesson began my mind was open and I was receptive. I did not know that my teacher on self-pity would be a goose. Find balance, it said to me. Do not carry the heavy burden of what has damaged you in the past. Do not worry about what could happen in the future. Only concern yourself with what must be done now.