“There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh ~
I have been thinking about this for the last few weeks, how often we look sadly at the past and with angst toward the unknown future when the remedy is so simple. So simple and yet we live in a time when in the world the word Mindfulness is bandied about so much it has lost it's meaning for people, one of those words that when used causes the listener, all too often, to just tune out. How many books are there out there on mindfulness? I think they are all important and I think it's the most necessary and meaningful message of our time. Mindfulness, Love, Compassion. And tenderness too, tenderness toward the smallest things.
A woman was here the other day and in my studio there are built in shelves all along one long wall with windows all the way down the wall and around the wall next to it. It is bright and sunny and I love it. And half that long shelf-top is filled with African Violets. The woman looked amazed. She said she killed everyone she got. That is not an uncommon thing to say about these humblest of plants and I find it so sad. Mine are positively huge and when they flower, showstopping. And the thing is they are not hard to take care of at all, but you must be aware of their needs and willing to take the time to care for them. That's true of every single living thing on the planet. All of mine came from the grocery store and I always look eagerly to the time when they stop flowering and no one will buy them so they put them in a cart to the side for fifty-cents. I take them home, re-pot them and feed them, and sure enough they come back bigger and stronger just covered with flowers. We are a throw away society. They would have tossed all of those little plants if no one had taken them, in fact the lady at my store will once in awhile just give some to me. And each one is precious, and I croon over them and talk to them and anyone would think I'd lost my mind but living, growing things respond to love and attention, from my little plants to tiny children to the menagerie of animals I live with. (I would encourage all of you to find an old copy of the book The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, an amazing book.)
A week ago Saturday a Greenwing Macaw came to live at my house. His beloved owner had died of cancer and her husband didn't have any idea what to do with him. He is a gorgeous bird oddly named Flounder because they lived at the beach and somehow came up with a fishy name for him. I was rather appalled and tried to called him Freddy Flounder in hopes that he'd pick up the new name but he says "Flounder" a million times a day in a multitude of different voices. So Flounder he is. He is very sweet, very gentle, and VERY large. A Greenwing Macaw can be 40" from the tip of his head to the tip of his tail. His wingspan can be 49". I've not measured Flounder but he's a good sized boy!
To have a bird of this size you have to have had parrot experience and all of my years running a non-profit shelter for disabled and unwanted parrots have served me well in rehabbing. handling and rescuing everything from the tiniest finch to the largest macaw or cockatoo. I have hand-raised a baby macaw, had cockatoos of all sorts but most were with me for a time until they were ready to go to a new home and they practically had to have an FBI background check to adopt the parrot.
People have seen pictures and looked quite startled at his size and asked me, "Aren't you afraid that he'll hurt you?" I kind of laugh because my beloved African Grey Henry, whom I lost tragically 2 years ago -- I never thought I'd survive that -- wasn't a lot bigger than Flounder's head and he would bite the living hoo-ha out of you. Flounder is so gentle, a sweetheart of a giant, that if you are about to do something he doesn't want you to do he will not bite, he will take your finger in his beak and just hold it, not hard, and then he lets go. It's his way of saying, "No, I don't like that."
Greenwing macaws are the 2nd largest macaw, 2nd only to the rare and beautiful Hyacinth macaw, a sky blue parrot that would take your breath away. and Greenwings are called The Gentle Giants of the macaw family. His previous owner took him with her everywhere she went, to the store, to the beach, she even took a nap with him and he would curl up under her neck.
He was very shy when he came and in these circumstances you say hello, give the bird food, water, treats, and let him settle in. They said it might be a few weeks before he let me really hold him. He was sitting in my lap kissing me the next day.
I have a silent communion with animals and communicate with them in a place beyond speech. In the years that I ran the parrot shelter birds were sent to me labeled "unhandleable" and almost put down by their distraught owners. I said "Don't worry, he will be fine," and without a doubt the parrot just brought in, terrified, wild, screeching, biting, would be eating out of my hand, giving me kisses, and would eventually go to a home a calm loving pet. That sounds extraordinary to people, but it's not. Not really.
I would place the parrot in a nice sized cage. Food and toys and plenty of everything, and I would sit in a chair several feet away and ignore him. I did not try to get him out or pick him up, just sat there quietly reading and finally got up and went on about my business. One day I would stick a treat through the bars, half in, and half out, go sit in my chair, pick my book up and ignore him. Eventually he would pull the treat in, eat it, and rush to a perch in the back of his cage. Soon, I would scoot my chair closer and talk very softly, with very calm energy. You have to lower your energy around a wild animal. They can feel fear, anxiety and every other emotion you feel. And you have to respect them, as you would have them respect you. Next he would take a treat from me through the bars and not back away but I still sat silently beside him. Came the day I opened his cage, put a treat on the top, and sat back in my chair. It took some time but finally he would come out and get his treat and go back in, eventually spending longer and longer times out. The day he took a treat from my hand was a triumph but I just spoke a few words very softly and sat back down. And on we went. One day I gently pushed my finger up under his feet and said "Up," and up he stepped, and from there on in the relationship built. The particular bird I'm speaking about was a beautiful blue Indian ring neck parakeet, a parrot a little larger than a cockatiel. But there were many more and different little feathered friends that came and the routine was always the same.
There is a single moment, a moment suspended in time, when you look into a bird's eyes and know that you are accepted. It is a profound moment. I have even had experiences with the wild birds that congregate at the 7 feeders just outside my studio windows. In the last few days a curious little fellow, a tiny rosy finch, will fly over and sit not 2 feet away from me waiting for me to fill the feeders. I act like I don't notice but finally I looked at him yesterday, smiled, and said, "Are you hungry little fella?" And he didn't fly away, just sat there. Again, a profound moment. When a wild creature trusts you you have been given the gift of a lifetime. I felt exhilarated coming in.
The first day that Flounder was here he was very shy. He was out on his large play stand with me most of the day, and it took a good long while before he was willing to step up on my hand to go into his cage to go night-night. The next day I opened the top door and he came out timidly. He did not say a word for 2 days. This is a bird with a vocabulary of roughly 300 words and counting. His previous owner kept a book of the words he said and sadly it didn't come with all of his things, but by the second day I opened his cage and let him come out, and eye to eye I said softly, "I love you Flounder. You're safe, you're home." He stepped up onto my hand and I carried him around awhile. We had to learn to trust each other.
Later I picked him up again and let him sit on my shoulder. He laid his cheek against mine and I reached up and took his beak in my hand gently and pulled it toward me and kissed his beautiful white face. There isn't anything softer in the world than the white skin on a macaw's face. It is amazing. I looked at him and he looked at me and I knew in that moment we were both taking a leap of faith but ready to give one another a shot. By that evening he was sitting on my chair with Sam, my velcro pug, and I, with the other pugs and big dog Moe surrounding us and I felt as if I were more blessed than anyone could hope for. And pardon the pictures. I have a torn ligament in my knee and can't get around well so I've used my camera phone to get some shots to capture his first days here.
Pug and Parrot Brothers...
Now, just over a week after his arrival he sings, laughs like a mad scientist, talks up a storm, preens me, has come beak to nose with Big Dog Moe, a lab-doby mix who now, at 17, thinks birds are just regular folks to have around. We got Moe as a tiny puppy and he grew up in the bird shelter. Many a baby parrot that I was handfeeding took their first flight and landed on Moe who sat still as a stone until I came and got him. We are a peaceable kingdom here.
It is a tremendous gift to live in a menagerie of 9 animals and who knows who else may show up along the way? Animals live in the moment. They do not worry about the past, nor the future, they live fully in the present moment. Time for dinner, time to go out, time for doggies to snuggle up to mom to watch t.v. after all the birds have gone to bed. And Flounder looks forward to his lovey time that comes just before he goes to bed. He sits in my lap and we kiss and talk and play and I rub his head and his face and preen him and he preens my hair, ever so gently, and then he will just sit and rest with me. He has given me the gift of his trust and I have given him my trust as well.
There is real love here, and the animals remind me to be present and mindful, and when I forget I may be nipped gently or have a dog jump up and bark at me, or feel a wet nose or beak against my cheek. I forgot, and they remind me, and I never stay down or out of focus for long. Too many little people to take care of here.
And so a great big bird has come to Dragonfly Cottage and our family grows larger with more love, unimaginable gifts that make my life more meaningful and teach me much about compassion, tenderness and trust, and, when people ask me if I get "lonely" since I'm divorced and my children grown I look around the room, scratch my head, and say distractedly, "I might, if I had the time..." There's never a dull moment here and I thank God for every single one of them and this moment, right now, writing these words to you.
Open your heart, take a deep breath, forget the future and the past and what you're going to wear today. Stop and notice every single thing in your presence at this very moment. Feel a swell of gratitude for the smallest thing. You have air to breathe, a place to roost and call home, a meal to eat. I know that because if you are reading this on a computer you surely are fortunate enough, as I am, to have these things. Start with the fundamental things and give thanks. Move through your day and whisper a soft "thank you," or think it silently, every time you notice something in your environment you are lucky enough to have. Take your time. Go slow. Notice.
A stack of fresh crisp paper, sharpened pencils, a pen that writes smoothly, a chickadee at the window feeder. The blessing of a night when there seems nothing in the house to eat but you scrounge around and come up with a curious assortment of this and that and make a somewhat peculiar meal that in that moment tastes like the best thing you've ever eaten. I'll take one of those meals over any I've had in a fancy restaurant. There are so many things that we have or have around us that are deeply meaningful and enrich our lives beyond measure and I don't mean fancy cars or clothes, a big fancy house, lots of money, and all of the latest greatest technology around. Look to the little things and gradually move up from there.
The breath you just took is sacred, it means that you are alive, it means that you still have time to be everything you ever wanted to be, you still have time to love and to grow and to skip and dance and sing and laugh. I laugh with Flounder. He cackles wildly which makes me laugh which makes him laugh harder and round and round we go like 2 lunatics. He would put Vincent Price to shame. And just before he came I was going through a long deep depression. We are saving each other and he has brought untold joy into my life.
Do I get lonely? Let me put it to you this way, and forgive me if this seems a little, well, rude-ish to talk about. It seems that every morning in the middle of making my latte and shake and taking vitamins and whatnot I have to, well, you know, ahem, go to the Lady's Room. Flounder is on my shoulder so he goes too. I sit on the throne and he starts singing at the top of his lungs (His owner's husband said that he loves to be in a small space and he sings loud to hear the echoes!). As Flounder is singing, laughing, and calling out, "FLOUNDER... FLOUNDER BIRD...." three pugs crowd into the tiny bathroom and then big doe Moe brings up the rear. There is not an inch of space left in the bathroom.
Do I get lonely? Well, I might, if I had the time...
We wish you well and send love and beaky kisses and soft doggie noses to kiss too. Some of you have kitties or other animal companions. I used to have a friend that looked forward to getting home at night so she could sit and read the paper with her 2 snakes coiled happily around her (To each their own!). What I'm saying is that if you have it in your heart to take in a gentle creature that needs a home, do so. There are so many rescues, so many animals in need, so much love to share, sublime companionship like you will never share with another human being. Animals keep you here, in the present, and if you win their love you will have one of the purest experiences in the world, and they will keep you in the moment if you stay awake and alive and aware with them.
Now I must close. Sam the pug has gone to sleep slumped over me. Flounder has his head turned around and beak tucked in his feathers. He's sleepy and it's time for me to take him in to bed. We wish you all a peaceful night and we are grateful for your presence in our lives as well.
Blessings abound, Miracles are everywhere, and there is more to be thankful for than we will ever have time to witness and praise. Lift your face upward, smile, breathe deeply and say Thank You. It doesn't matter what you are saying thank you for, it's okay if you can't even think of a thing in this moment, gratitude makes us joyful, and makes us aware of the abundance of riches we have every single moment of our lives.
Thank you. We love you. Namaste...
Maitri & Family