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Mindfulness

Passing Geese & Plucking Feathers

07.12.22

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Some of the best advice on life and living comes from the ancient Chinese. From “Do not die” (不作不死) to “You can’t get fat on one mouthful” (不能一口吃成胖子), you simply can’t beat the wisdom of Chinese proverbs. I mean, tell me if any of these aren’t true: 

A man who keeps his feet firmly on the ground will have trouble putting on pants.

A girl who does everything under the sun gets everything sunburned.

Defeat isn’t bitter if you don’t swallow it.

Love is blind, friendship closes its eyes.

Wealth is but dung, useful only when spread.

You must have crossed the river before you may tell the crocodile he has bad breath.

A man who waits for a roast duck to fly into his mouth will wait for a very long time.

It’s not economical to go to bed early to save candles if the result is twins.

While all of these sayings make me laugh and nod in agreement, just one has impacted how I live my life. I came across this particular proverb on a bookmark—someone else’s bookmark, in fact, which came fluttering out of a hastily shut book and I helped retrieve (looking back, I should’ve peeked at what book was worth snatching away so quickly; good thing I got as much out of this bookmark as I did). As I handed back the bookmark, I caught this quote:  

Pluck a feather from every passing goose but follow none completely. 

It stuck with me. Hours later, I was surprised to realize that I was repeating the dictum over and over in my head. It’s like my brain found a single smooth marble to roll around, up and down, as I went about my day. And as I went about the following day. A week later, again, the thought crossed my mind, “Pluck a feather from every passing goose but follow none completely.” Clearly, the proverb decided to live in my skull permanently, and I’ve since spent a lot of time thinking about what it means. 

The world is full of geese. I mean that figuratively, although I suppose that’s also true literally, as geese live on every continent on earth except Antarctica, but I digress. On every street corner, every webpage, tv channel, radio station, and book cover, a “goose” vies for your attention. If a group of geese is called a gaggle (only on land, geese in the air is called a skein, fun fact!), people gaggle according to worldview, demographics, political beliefs, spiritual leanings, and more. 

As a gaggle crosses your path in life, pluck a feather: Learn, ask questions, and if the ideas, practices, or information are worthy, take them with you. But resist the instinct to gaggle, to surround yourself comfortably in the center of a like-minded flock. The view gets boring, it’s too loud to think with all the honking, and if you’ve ever walked a golf course after a gang of geese make their hit, it’s shi—-shall I say, messy. 

Instead, as I believe the Chinese wisdom keepers of yore would have us do, and what we encourage you to do with our different modalities here at groWise be Well, pluck a feather from every passing “goose,” make your own wings, and fly.  

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