I have never seen a chickadee drag himself to the bird feeder, reluctant to take a kernel or two. I have never seen a cardinal fly listlessly from tree to tree. Or a junko not hop from place to place on the ground. Or a wren not look cute and perky. Or a nuthatch not make a beeline for the seed and fly away as fast as possible. The birds in my backyard and yours are full of life and vitality. Of course, they do not have the mental capacities that we have, or perhaps the emotion loading of the human species, but they still have a lot to teach us about life.
I am a bird watcher, not in an official sense where I have a lifelong list of the birds I have “captured” in my sight. I am more of a lover of birds. Every time I see a bird—be it a vulture circling high overhead or a chickadee at my feeder, I am lifted up at the sight. They remind me to be me. They inspire me because they are so full of life and they just do what they were created to do.
They also remind me of the preciousness of all life. They remind me of the immense variety of God’s creation. They restore me to me if I am out of sorts in any way. Too many times in my life I have mindlessly gone on, buffeted by the events and people in my life, trying to obey the rules and get my reward for being good. I have lived many years on the surface of my life.
Today I want to live deeply: I want to taste all the different tastes—the sweet, the bitter, the bland, the chocolate, the pain and the suffering. I don’t want to miss out on one thing in my life. I want to always be aware of the preciousness of life, of the preciousness of my life.
This gift of life, of a span of time however long, on this beautiful earth home, is so precious, so rich, and so full of all of what life offers: joy and sorrow, sickness and health, challenge and defeat or success and more. I want to wrest from each moment its gift for me: the lesson, the deeper relationship, the sorrow, the love, the beauty, the reason for me being in this place at this time.
I want to discern in this moment what I am to bring to it, to the person(s) before me, to the situation at hand. Then to the next moment and to the next. In the ocean all the busyness—waves, choppiness, and white-caps– takes place in the top fifteen feet. Beneath that activity there are long slow currents that move throughout the ocean. We can easily talk today about the busyness, but as in the ocean that’s all surface stuff. I want to mine the depths of my experience at the same time that I am engaged in the surface activity.
It takes practice to be able to do this: we have to have our inner sensors—the inner eye and ear—activated, watching and listening for signs beyond the obvious surface stuff, all the while doing the normal stuff of the day. Having one’s interior systems on watch means that we notice the deeper levels of life, we see the motivation behind what others are saying, we hear what is really being asked for underneath the surface conversation, and we become aware of what we need to give to the moment.
This practice depends upon a stillness within. If our own interior dialogue is so noisy and unattended, if our own needs are not being met, we will not be successful at getting quiet, at meditating, at contemplation—the best ways of stilling the voices within. When we are so full of ourselves, we cannot “hear” and “see” what else might be going on. Spiritual practices over time bring us this ability to notice what role we are to play in the unfolding drama of life and how we can be truly helpful in any given situation. The more we attend to our inner spirit and knowing, the more able we are to do what we were created to do.
Like the chickadee and the cardinal and my other avian friends, we do what we do because of our genetic makeup, but we are more complex than a bird. Our consciousness and the ability to choose how we live our lives means that we also have to choose to live them deeply, to live as we were created to do and be. The amazing result of choosing to live deeply into our lives is this: life is truly interesting and amazing and adventurous and precious. There is no listlessness nor lagging spirits, we are bringing our full energies to what ever we do and what we do fulfills us. Then we are like the birds and all other creatures of nature: we do what we were created to do just because that’s the way we were created.