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Falling Down

Falling Down....I keep going back to Michael Stone's dharma talk on compassion, he told the story of the Pang family, a Zen koan.

Mr. Pang was selling bamboo baskets with his daughter, and on his way to the market he was coming down a hill and he tripped and fell and all the baskets flew way from him. When his daughter, Lingzhao, saw this she ran to her father’s side and threw herself down. “What are you doing?” cried the Layman. “I saw you fall to the ground, so I’m helping,” replied Lingzhao. “Luckily no one was looking,” remarked Mr. Pang.

This koan reminded me of when my children first began to learn how to walk. As they would venture away from the safety of sofa surfing and toddle out into the open space of the living room when they would eventually fall and I would fall with them, smiling. It is just what I did as a mother, I let myself fall with them without thinking about it. And then I would smile, laugh or giggle with them on the living room until they were ready to try again. I didn't plan this out, it is just something that I did - looking back I was probably just trying to keep them from crying. But looking closer I was teaching them how to fall and showing them compassion by falling with them.

Michael's dharma talk brought this little act of falling down with my children back to me. Making me think of my current immediate reactions to my children who are now teens, and friends and family around me who have fallen, how many times I offered up advice instead of just being there, falling with them. Or perhaps worse, judging them. Is our immediate response "advice" to correct the situation or is our immediate response to be present with them, to experience their fall with compassion and empathy?

Now, taking this lesson out into the world.....having compassion to fall with someone, just being there to help or be present with a person, whole heartedly. We fall down together. Pang’s daughter falls down next to her father. She does not fix the situation. She helps him fall. She falls right next to him. That is how it is, we fall down together. Falling teaches us something: that life is uncertain, unknowable, unpredictable.

As Lingzhao helps her father fall, as she falls with him, there is no fixing, there is no illusion substitution. No, theirs is an intimate fall, a fall into awakening, an assent to the flow of life. So, it is no wonder that Mr. Pang said, “Luckily no one was looking.”

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