The history of birds

For some reason, the title “The History of Birds” was on my mind this morning. A few days ago I got myself some bird feed, and mornings and evenings I place it out and then watch the birds descend to forage. It’s amazing how quickly the birds learn to expect the feed to appear: they sit patiently and wait for me to bring their food.

It reminds me that many of the great spiritual traditions of our world make reference to the birds of their air when drawing our attention to the spiritual truth. I can imagine that the people of ancient times looked up to the birds in the sky with wonder and imagined what their world might look like from above. Do the birds see the world as the gods do?

When I look at the birds feeding in my garden, many thoughts cross my mind. Why are they the subject of the spiritual masters? Words that come to mind are migratory, groundlessness, vulnerability.

Birds do not have a permanent home. They build nests to have and raise their young, but then they move on again. They are only at one place for a time, and then they ascend on the winds to migrate to another location. Birds daily live the truth of impermanence. Everything we have and hold and love is temporary. The impermanent nature of things should not make us live in fear of losing them; rather it should help us enjoy every moment and person and thing at the time for all its worth. We have to learn to love in the present moment. The knowledge that we can lose everything we hold dear at any time should make us free to live truthfully and to live well.

Birds live the principle of groundlessness. This is a Buddhist concept that speaks to the illusion we all live under, namely that our lives are grounded, secure and predictable. Humans are meaning-making-beings: we are wired to add meaning to the things we go through, especially when they are unexpected and hurtful. We get through the hard times in life by imagining and hoping that it will ultimately make some sense, that there is a reason for it all.

We live in a world that is flawed, where wrong and hurtful things happen for no reason at all. We ask “why me?” when such things happen. It is liberating to realise that the world does not revolve around you and that your life is not as valuable as our ego makes you believe it is. Another Buddhist concept in this regard is “to accept what is.” It does not mean that we not to plan and that we are not to have ambition. It speaks to the freedom to flow freely with the currents of life.

We can embark on the adventure of life in the vulnerability of living like the birds, our teachers who are ever present in the sky.

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