I recently came across a quotation from a book called The Hagakure, one of the most well-known commentaries on bushido, the martial code of the Japanese samurai. The contents of the book date from the early 1700s, and while not all of the instructions are in line with my own philosophies, there is a lot of good stuff to think about in there. The particular quotation from this book that I’ve been thinking about comes from an instruction called “Fear Not the Rain.”
One must know the so-called “lesson of a downpour.” A man, caught in a sudden rain en route, dashes along the road not to get wet or drenched. Once one takes it for granted that in rain he naturally gets wet, he can be in a tranquil frame of mind even when soaked to the skin. This lesson applies to everything.
I have found this lesson coming to mind in many different situations (rain included!) and it helps me to accept things that I find uncomfortable, but unavoidable. The notion that of course I’m going to get wet in the rain keeps me from treating the downpour as some kind of personal affront, as if somehow I should be exempted from its consequences. And, for that matter, it helps me become aware that I was feeling that way about it in the first place. (It sounds pretty silly to put it into words for this post, but I doubt I’m the only one ever to feel this way. )
A few weeks ago, we had a massive downpour as a thunderstorm rolled in. I was safely inside, but on a branch outside my window, a tiny hummingbird was trying desperately to flick the water off her wings. She fluttered and fidgeted, looking around with such agitation that I wanted to tell her, “It’s ok. It’s only natural to get wet when it rains.” Of course, I wasn’t about to go outside and join her, so it’s probably just as well I didn’t try to offer any platitudes. While it can be wonderfully freeing to approach our own troubles in this way, it is usually not helpful to dismiss the difficulties of others as “only natural,” unless they themselves are trying to see them that way.
After all, the other side of the coin is the ability to change the situation when we can. Accepting that I will get wet in the rain doesn’t mean I can’t open an umbrella or look for shelter. Acceptance isn’t the same as apathy – in fact, recognition and acceptance of the situation as it is, is a necessary part of taking steps to change it. So we can recognize the “naturalness” of a situation and still lend a hand, whether or not anyone else involved sees it that way. There wasn’t much I could do for that little hummingbird other than hope she could find a more sheltered perch, but I could at least acknowledge her discomfort (even as I found it adorable.) Because hey, sometimes discomfort in the rain is natural, too.
Addendum: It’s entirely possible (probable, really, the more I think about it) that I was completely wrong about the hummingbird, and she was actually enjoying herself while taking a shower. But really, that just brings up another possible point to take from it: that is, not to assume that our own preferences are shared by everyone. To me, she appeared extremely uncomfortable, repeatedly wiping her face on the branch and moving as if she wanted to throw off every drop that landed – but perhaps I was simply projecting my own dislike of getting water in my eyes. In that case, perhaps she was providing an even stronger example of how to deal with the rain: don’t just accept it, play in it!