A few months back, I read about a man who, one winter morning, was walking along a river embankment on his way to work. It was cold, cold even for a back eastern blasted January. Bent over and inward trying to keep the wind from finding any uncovered cracks between skin and cloth, the man glanced over to the water’s gray scales, when suddenly he spotted a Dog – a Dog! in the middle of the river, thrashing, his mouth wild with fear. Barely slowing his stride, the man pulled off his heavy waterproofed jacket, the dense woolen sweater his mother had made, and threw himself into the flow. Wrapping himself around the Dog’s windmilling arms, he pulled them both to safety and shore. As he sat stunned and shivering, cloaked in a silver thermal blanket on the ambulance tailgate, the man was asked what made him do what he did. He answered, “I don’t know – I guess it was instinct. I don’t even like Dogs.”
The incident of the Dog-saving man is one of countless examples including nonhumans such as Moose and their calves strolling through groups of Wolves, Macaque Monkeys caring for motherless Chickens, Lionesses bringing orphaned Oryxes into their fold, Leopard Seals come to the aid of humans, Cats nursing wounded Squirrels, leafing Trees sending nutrients to stumps and Icelandic Orcas adopting newborn Pilot Whales. Each of these sheds a different light on the nature of instinct. When we look more carefully behind Tennyson’s myth of mindless tooth and claw, we discover that it is kindness and compassion which rule Nature’s ways, not violence. The setting sun, the ocean’s vast expanse, a forest’s comforting quiet – all reflect the primal urge for collective peace.
Kindness and compassion do not need planting. They already lie within. Listen again to the man in the river: “I don’t even like Dogs.” Kindness is not about what we think. Kindness is about doing the right thing. “Seeds of loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity,” writes Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, “are inside. Through the practice of mindfulness, “the seeds of suffering will shrink and positive seeds of kindness will grow.” Every drop of kindness we give waters seeds of kindness in another, and those seed yet more kindness in someone else, and on and on until we all return to the gentleness of Lionesses, Orcas, Wolves, leafing Trees and savers of Dogs.
~ Dedicated to Tommy ~
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