One of the things I love about my home in Scotland is the birds. The little birds that come to feed on sunflower seeds and peanuts outside my kitchen window. The crows cawing in the tall trees as I practice in the morning. The starlings that roll across the sky in their flocks. The birds of prey swooping through the woods as I walk the dogs. The heron sitting in the wall of the pool and the noisy oystercatchers at the beach. And the swallows and swifts with their acrobatic elegance, signalling the coming and going of the summer.
As I write this I recognise that there are more birds in my life than I realise! I notice many of them and rejoice when I find them in their usual and in unusual places. In my mind they all have their individual characters.
On the train down to Manchester and when I am in the city, I like to look at the sky. I feel the sense of space above me, and I like to watch the birds flying there. Watching them fly gives me a sense of freedom.
Coldplay often sing about this freedom of the birds to fly. Songs I love.
I am reminded of this quote from the Sadhana of Mahamudra:
‘Good and bad, happy and sad, all thoughts vanish into emptiness like the imprint of a bird in the sky’
That sounds like freedom to me.
My father was a bird watcher. He volunteered for the British Trust of Ornithology. I spent many happy Sundays with him, catching birds in drift nets, measuring their beak and wing lengths, checking their age and gender and placing a little silver ring on their leg.
Although, I am not sure as an adult about the ethics of this research, at the time I loved it. I loved how delicate and perfect the birds were, with their beautiful coloured feathers and their intelligent eyes.
I anthropomorphise all the animals I see, and the insects. I unconsciously project characters onto them all. And I am grateful for this. It adds richness to my life. I see them all as creatures, just like us, with their joys and struggles. Just like us, they have a right to live freely in the world without being imposed upon by us humans.
I watch the cows and sheep, and just now the calves and lambs, and wish them happiness in the green fields around my home. Before they reach their terrible end.
And then there are my three dogs. Nutmeg, Holly and Daisy, to each of whom I ascribe human attributes. My family talk about their antics like they were human children, assigning motivations to their different human behaviours. I am closest to my dog Nutmeg. So far as I am concerned, she is the very best dog in the world. She is struggling just now, after a stroke like event. She seems not to suffer too much. Her stoic patience is admirable, but I find that her loss of agility is heartbreaking. She was the most amazingly acrobatic and athletic ball catcher in her time. We are doing all we can to support her recovery and giving her all the loving care we can.
So my suggestion this week is to pay attention to all the creatures surrounding us and to rejoice in their lives. Can we find the compassion to see how we can make their environment safer and more conducive to their happiness? From rescuing the spider in the bath, to taking care of our pets. Can we notice all the little creatures with whom we share our lives. Can we make it an opportunity for a mindful moment, a moment for gratitude and appreciation and a moment for compassionate action, if there is something we can do to help.
I hope you have a lovely week full of creatures to marvel at. Notice the birds and the imprint they make in the sky. Recognise that our thoughts – however troubling they may be – are no more solid than this.