It’s morning. The sun is hazy. So many Blue jays, Mourning Doves, Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Chickadees and a few Evening Grosbeaks feed at the bird feeder outside the window or on the seeds scattered on the ground.
Their movements are first individual, one move here, another there. Then all at once, like a wave, they all take off. They’re here, then gone.
I find it tremendously soothing to put my attention on the birds, plants, and sunlight.
The view feels sacred to me. Calmly focusing on it helps me gain some clarity in troubling times and find something beyond the obvious in what I see. It helps me to find answers to the questions, fears, and confusions that powerfully arise or that I barely know are there. It reveals the moment has depths not to be missed.
We can let our eyes rest on the whole scene and then our body⎼ shoulders and belly especially⎼ relax; our hands at ease on our lap. Take a few slow, deep breaths. And then we watch individual movements, distinguish which birds like the feeder, which the ground. Who is aggressive and who can share a meal? Or we can listen to the calls of the different birds, hear one, then another, or listen to them all, together, like a concert. Standing by the window, we can feel the warmth of the sun shining on our face.
James Shaheen, in a letter from the Editor of Tricycle Magazine, The Buddhist Review (Winter, 2020) titled “A Time for Eternities,” speaks to this point. He writes about Thoreau saying, “Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.” Not to totally withdraw from what is happening around us, no matter how challenging or frightening⎼ the often-disturbing news headlines, for example.
When times are chaotic and frightening, it is helpful to stay attuned to what endures, “to the knowledge that illuminates the deepest matters of human meaning.” He is referring not only to Buddhist teachings but the wisdom, “through which consciousness is deepened,” the caring for others in our best traditions.
This wisdom is what reveals the truths in what surrounds us. In a synchronous fashion, I by “chance” read or listened to two other authors and teachers who gave similar messages, or maybe I just saw a similarity in what they said. Heaven is not divorced from the earth; enlightenment is not separate from ordinary mind. The birds and I are not as separate as we might think.
One of the most dreadful things that can happen to us is losing sight of the fact that there is this depth, there are these truths, that something matters⎼ that this, right here before us, these birds, this sunshine, exists. That to feel the truth of it, we must be fully present.
One thing we can do is place objects of beauty and meaning around the house to remind us to look and feel⎼ remind us that although there are moments that we can’t, for whatever reason, do it, there are others when we can look and feel. That we can train our eyes and brain to see and our heart to feel beauty and meaning in life and recognize how whatever is seen or heard around us is not separate from seeing and hearing what goes on in our self. Then we are not overwhelmed, we can be strong and yet gentle, and we don’t turn away from others who need help and support.
These birds of all kinds come to feed one by one, and then scatter all at once into a wave of colors energized in flight⎼ this is the universe itself in flight. And none other than the universe itself seeing it.
In his book China Root: Taoism, Chan, and Original Zen, poet, translator David Hinton describes how we have a sense of alienation, of “not being present in one’s immediate life-experience” when we feel ourselves “caught in some inside radically separated from the outside of empirical reality.” And when our mind is clear, it is “a vast opening” to “the wild cosmos perceiving itself.”
We need moments when we step out of the body of definitions of our self that others, or we ourselves, have given us, and immerse our awareness in the body of the world. Who knew there was such meaning in the flight of a bird?
What reminds me to look is for me, a Buddha. When we look with “eyes wide open” Buddhas and grace are everywhere.