In 2011, on an island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, a retired bricklayer named Joao Pereira de Souza found a penguin stranded on the beach. The penguin was starving, covered in oil and could barely move. The bricklayer called him Jinjing and took him home. He fed Jinjing sardines and washed the tar off his feathers. When the bird was healthy, the bricklayer tried to set him free, but Jinjing had a different idea. He stayed in the bricklayer’s backyard for eleven months, and then he disappeared without warning. The bricklayer was upset; he had become attached to his pet penguin, and he thought Jinjing was gone for good. Parents of a graduating high-school senior might feel this story is a little too close to home.
The test of genuine compassion lies in our actions, not our mindsets. It’s easy to think kind thoughts, but acting with compassion is what matters, especially when we don’t feel it. The bricklayer in this modern-day parable planned to take care of Jinjing only until this penguin could rejoin the other penguins. But that’s not how Jinjing saw their relationship. Penguins are loyal, they’re usually monogamous for life, and Jinjing thought the bricklayer was his mate. So, it makes sense that the penguin stuck around and it makes sense that the bricklayer grew attached. But what the bricklayer didn’t know was that penguins stay with their mates only during nesting season and leave their nests for the rest of the year. It was rough for the bricklayer when Jinjing took off and being a parent can be rough too. Like Jinjing, children sometimes say and do things innocently that are hurtful. Parents get a lot of advice about how to help their kids manage hurt feelings, but not so much about how to handle their own. Mindfulness offers four insights that help parents navigate these emotional ups and downs with wisdom and compassion.
When parents respond to their hurt feelings and disappointment wisely, they’re modeling wisdom and compassion for their kids. Are difficult emotions painful? They can be. Do we sweep them under the rug and ignore them? I hope not. The aim is to acknowledge painful feelings and then pull back to make sense of them within the context of a broad worldview. If we look at what’s happening within and around us with an open mind and remind ourselves that all things change and are connected, we’re better able to accept what happens and respond with equanimity.
Like many painful parenting experiences, the story of the penguin and the bricklayer has a happy ending. Months later, the bricklayer heard a loud hoot coming from his backyard, and when he investigated, he found that the penguin had returned. Jinjing and the bricklayer have settled into a mutually satisfying routine with the penguin leaving every February and returning every June. No one knows where he spends the rest of the year but, for now, Jinjing’s spending the summer and fall in the bricklayer’s backyard. Sometimes there’s suffering in life, but sometimes things also work out.
To learn more about mindfulness and Susan Kaiser Greenland visit her website www.susankaisergreenland.com.
Originally published at medium.com