“Practice” is an interesting word; in one sense it refers to something that we are actually doing (e.g. my consulting practice) and in another sense it refers to repeated exercise to improve a skill. As I have said before I think that there are things we can practice and get better at, and things that we believe are practice for something and are actually no help at all. The trick here is to remember that “practice” is a neutral word, we tend to ascribe positive connotations to “practice” but the truth is you can practice anything and get better – both good and bad.
I have been thinking about the nature of being because I have a mouse currently living on my kitchen counter and though it is not my practice to keep mice in my kitchen, I am practicing kindness and compassion and patience and these lessons seem to be arriving in the form of a small brown field-mouse, at least for right now.
I have mentioned before that I have cats. I have cats because I like cats, in particular I like fluffy cats that don’t mind being pet and occasionally want to sit on your lap and snuggle. I also like the aesthetic quality of a cat in the house and the garden, and the decrease in rodents that occurs when you have a cat about. I know that the cats eat mice and rats, that is part of why I want them. I understand that rodents have a place in the world and are valuable members of the ecosystem and I also don’t want them in my house. The irony of the fact that I have purchased rodents for my children to keep as pets in the past is not lost.
Mostly I don’t have to participate in the process whereby they are fewer rodents in the home, that is why I have cats. They do the dirty work for me. Sometimes, whatever is happening in the cat brain suggests to the cats that I too would enjoy playing with a mouse, or eating a mouse, and they bring one to me to share. Then I run around chasing said mouse so that I can “rescue” it from the fate that I want it to have but I don’t want to know about. The cats watch amused and then sometime after the complicated catch and release they trot off to eat the mouse I just saved and we all feel good about ourselves. I don’t want to kill the mouse, but I also don’t want the mouse to be alive in my house. I don’t want to kill the chicken but I am perfectly happy to purchase someone else’s handiwork in a neat package of cellophane at the grocery store. These are the internal conflicts that are part of my human experience.
So yesterday there was a small brown mouse running in frantic circles just off the deck. I could have let the dog out to investigate but that was not going to be good for the mouse. The cats were sleeping inside and looked well fed. I could have ignored the mouse and left it to its fate, invoking the prime directive of the backyard if you will. Instead I jumped into rescue mode and went out to collect the mouse who was clearly suffering. Mouse is now in an old fish tank on the kitchen counter. He is either receiving recuperative care or palliative care, we don’t know which but are waiting to see. I am feeding Mouse apples and lettuce and oats, he has a old dishtowel for a nest and a small cap of water. He is less frantic and resting quietly most of the time. I am hoping to release Mouse back into the world, where he will become again a mouse that I want to stay out of my house, however it is that magically happens (cue the cats). Obviously there is some conflict here.
Right now I have a practice of compassion for a mouse who is in some kind of pain, and being compassionate helps me consider more carefully all those things in the world that are suffering. It is enormous and overwhelming. And because of that I think sometimes we don’t want to practice a skill that might leave us feeling helpless or hopeless because of the size of the problem. When have we done enough? And if we can’t do enough maybe it is better to do nothing and thus we practice apathy, or anger, or meanness because it is easier. When I feel compassion for a mouse I feel that compassion expand and I want to touch all of the suffering in the world and I am sad that I can’t. But maybe if we practice, and we each do a little, and we get better at it, then it is enough for right now.