Category Archives: birds

Awareness is All

“Awareness is all” states a bumper sticker on a friend’s car.  I believe this is so true but there is a catch—“awareness” always means to contemplate that our “awareness” is not complete and never will be.  So this “awareness” has a built-in catch-22 so you will always understand that you only see part of the picture. This morning I do think I have some degree of awareness but an important dimension of this “awareness” is that my view of the world is always filtered by biases and preconceptions so that I’m rarely under the illusion that I have complete awareness.  Earlier this morning as my wife and sweet dachshund Elsa sat on the back stoop and watched the dawn unfold, in deep admiration of the experience of the moment, I quipped to them, “Our view always tends to block our view.”  I was aware that as I watched the flycatcher birds cavorting about, scouring for food for their new born, I had witnessed moments like this many times in my life but had never seen the beauty unfolding as I was at that moment.  The process of growing awareness works toward allowing us to grasp our beautiful world in more of its pristine glory.  And I watched the sun beginning to light Taos Mountain for another day, flickering different permutations of shadow and gentle light on these mythical mountains, dressing them for another day of bringing magic to this lovely Northern New Mexico community. As always, Elsa was doing her part to quicken the moment, just setting there on her cushion in all of her exquisite, innocent beauty, licking her ribs and fantasizing about the exciting world she would get to play in another day.

My quip came from the realization that this pristine beauty has been with me from the earliest moments of conscious life.  But like all humans I learned to take it for granted, often seeing not the beauty of the world but my usual image of the beauty, “my view of the view,” not humble enough yet to approach the whiff of “the thing in itself,” less encumbered by the blinders of cognition. These blinders are, albeit, a very necessary part of life but they can become so familiar to us that we never venture beneath the surface and flirt with the aforementioned pristine beauty.

The poet Carl Sandburg understood this truth in his poem, “Precious Moments.”  Bright vocabularies are transient as rainbows./Speech requires blood and air to make it./Before the word comes off the end of the tongue,/While diaphragms of flesh negotiate the word,/In the moment of doom when the word forms/It is born, alive, registering an imprint—Afterward it is a mummy, a dry fact, done and gone.

Sandburg realized that a word is “alive” only one moment, in the “moment of doom” when it is formed after which we will be left only with an imprint.  But this beautiful poem was encouraging us to explore the depths of our heart and discover that flirtation with the pristine beauty of life can be rewarding. This exploration will help us to understand how that our view of life often blocks our view of an intrinsic dimension of life.  This is what Jesus had in mind when he challenged those who live on the surface of life, having “eyes to see but seeing not, ears to hear but hearing not.”

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Wendell Berry & “The Peace of Wild Things”

One of my readers responded recently with a note about the value of his “dogs, garden, and wild life” in his spiritual life. His response really spoke to me and reminded me of my own affinity with the natural world and helped to ground me on that occasion, bringing me down from the lofty heights of the aether that I often get intoxicated with when I trot this “stuff” out. I have two dachshunds who just thrill my soul each day, a desert garden that I hope to see bloom again real soon, and birds, bunny rabbits, skunks, and coyotes that live in the neighborhood. This earth, and this “dust of the earth” of which each of us is a particle, is the only thing that is in a very real sense. And all this “stuff” that I discourse about…though important…is only about a context that gives meaning to all of this beautiful world.

Here is a link to Wendell Berry reading one of my favorite poems in which he recognizes the “Peace of Wild Things” and notes the comfort he finds there. And he speaks of the “wild heron” which adorned the lovely Beaver Lake on which I lived for 21 years in Northwest Arkansas before I moved here to New Mexico. And he noted how that these beautiful birds and other “wild things” do not “tax their thoughts with forethought of grief.” Berry was telling us of the importance of living in “The Now” which is the term that Eckhart Tolle coined to speak of the Presence which is the only thing that ever is. Our culture teaches us to live in the past and in the future and rewards us for doing so; thus it is a real challenge to ever-live in the present. I’m sure having trouble doing it!

The Peace of Wild Things

 

A blog-o-sphere friend of mine shared a devotional she has recently written after a return from another country, a trip which aroused in her lots of fear and anxiety. And she honored me with use of a couple of thoughts I have shared here recently.

I too have traveled abroad some and always experience the same hyper-vigilance that she described, terrified on some level with the knowledge that I am a “stranger in a strange land.” I always enjoy the experience of being outside of my native land, thrilled with the experience of “difference”, delighted to note how these beautiful people have carved out for themselves a life so different than my own and how it works just as well as does life in my culture. But, nevertheless, there is the under current of fear and anxiety as I’m not in the comfort of my “hearth and home” and don’t have the security provided by my “stuff”, including the commonplaces of day to day life certainly including my native tongue.

Regarding her anxiety, my friend referenced the beautiful observation of Jesus about the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, “how they toil not, neither do they spin” yet are marvelously taken care of. This brought to my mind a beautiful poem by Wendell Berry that often comforts me, particularly his observation that he finds comfort in the midst of despair with “the peace of wild things” who “do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”

I have used this “taxation” idea so many times in recent years, often in reference to my two beloved dachshunds, Ludwig and Elsa, who always appear so much at comfort inside their own skin, not having any need to “tax their lives with forethought of grief.” They are simply present…in the moment…following the advice of Ram Dass to “be here now.” (I bought for them the doggie translation of Mr. Dass’s book though I felt ripped off as every word was translated as “arf.”)

Now I realize that the deck is stacked in Ludwig and Elsa’s favor in that they don’t have this neo-cortical machine that is always whirring, plotting and scheming to accomplish the desires of an ego. The good Lord has blessed/cursed us with this contrivance though I feel strongly it can be a blessing if we follow the advice of Jesus and remember these beautiful birds and flowers that are present as a prompt to adjust our focus when the stresses of life buffet us.  As always, we must remember, “This too shall pass.”

THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS

BY WENDELL BERRY

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

Be Here Now!

This admonishment used to make no sense to me and even used to perturb me for I knew it came from “one of them there damn hippies” though at that point in my life it was probably “dang” rather than “damn.” And, of course it is so meaningful to me now because it is not about “sense” (or reason run amok) but is about “presence” which is a more fundamental dimension of existence than reason. Most of my life has been spent in absence, in not “being here now”, but being immersed in my own little cognitive grasp of the world, a self-imposed prison like the one most people spend their whole lives in.

At present moment I think I “be here now.” I have just awakened and have taken my perch for “bird theater” with my cup of coffee, awaiting my three puppies to join me—two dachshunds and my wife. The darkness will lift shortly and I will again watch the birds engage in their ritual frenzy at the feeders and will be taken with the beauty of the moment. I will “be here now.” I often think of the words of Jesus at this moment, and apply a bit of literary license to his description of “the birds of the air,”  noting that they do not fret and stew but merely go about each day of their life “birding” the world. And I also often recall a beautiful poem by Wendell Berry who described finding “peace in wild things” when beset by despair, wild things who do not “tax their lives with forethought of grief.”

Be here now.