Dark Birds

Artist: Kelly Moore

a full blown dark bird 
has flown well past being
an outsider or a misfit
and no longer needs to be
part of a group or wear
a label or needs to be
understood
i am
we are
our own person
born in the clean space
of the desert powerful beings in our truth
choosing our own path
living our own lives
often loving
places and people
others dont care for or understand
we are simply
dark birds

(poem by artist, Kelly Moore)

4:00 a.m. I am lying awake in the dark of my room, listening to the wind outside howl. Its mournful sounds are anemically echoed in the high whine and hiss issuing from the radiator at the head of my bed. The alarm will go off in twenty minutes, and I face a choice: spend the next few minutes mostly asleep or mostly worrying about things I can’t change at 4:00 a.m. I choose sleep.

It seems like a small choice. But our days are filled with these small choices. Added together their sum equals this thing we call “my life”.

One spring a few years back, I visited Pecos National Historic Park in New Mexico with my parents. I felt some sort of magic there, emanating perhaps from the confluence of history and landscape. I wanted a moment to just soak it in, so I let my parents walk on ahead. The wind was strong, and as I stood still on the trail, I felt it blowing against me with force. I watched as a raven flew toward me. It drew even with my eyes, just a foot or so in front of me, and hovered there, riding the air current and making eye contact with me. After a minute, the raven opened its wings and flew off in a graceful arc. The momentary spell was broken. As I rejoined my parents, my dad asked, “What did that blackbird have to say? It looked like he was giving you a message.”

Perhaps it was more a lesson than a message, one that I needed the distance of time to learn. As it hovered in front of me, the raven’s wings were not moving. They were simply holding steady, allowing the wind to do the work. It wasn’t that the bird did nothing. Rather, the bird did the very thing we struggle against so often in our lives: it trusted the flow.

How simple, yet how incredibly difficult, is that? Still, the lesson is clear and can be found in many spiritual traditions as well as in self-help and pop psychology books. The language varies, of course, but the message is the same: stop worrying and learn to trust.

Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Buddha: Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

Lao Tzu: Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

The wind has, if anything, picked up force in the hours since I first heard it blustering. I can hear bits of detritus being blown against the windows: broken twigs, a few dead leaves that somehow escaped being buried in the snow. As I think about these forlorn items, I realize that there is a difference between being a twig buffeted willy-nilly by the wind and the raven. The twig exerts no will, while the raven wills itself into the flow.

In a little while, I will venture out of the protection of my apartment and into the gale-force winds. I will gird myself for the experience in a huge down parka. As I face the day ahead, I will attempt to will myself into the flow and then relax there, rather than be thrown about without volition like the twig. Another small choice, adding to the sum of “my life”.

Unexpected Warmth in the Season of Ice

I spent last weekend in Minneapolis, visiting my friend Mike. Friday night and Saturday were very nice. I truly enjoyed the time spent in low-key activities such as attending a high school girl’s basketball game, shopping with Mike’s sons for their winter formal fashions, and a delicious dinner at primebar in Uptown (if you go there, definitely get the steak flatbread; we had ours without the bechamel sauce).

It was great. But…

…I couldn’t relax. I received calls and texts from work throughout the evening on Friday, and again both Saturday morning and afternoon – it was difficult to disconnect from the stress of the work week when it followed me to another state! In addition, I was concerned about my Dad, fighting double pneumonia in Albuquerque. To top things off, I worried obsessively about the impending weather. When I left town on Friday, all weather reports were for some mixed precipitation on Sunday, but the forecast wasn’t particularly alarming. However, by Saturday, it became clear that ice was likely to be a major issue.

I needed to get back to Cedar Rapids on Sunday! I had so much to do! This couldn’t be happening! (Insert frantic hair pulling and frown-y face here)

Sunday morning, I was up by 7:15, disappointed to see the Iowa DOT website covered with the pink dots denoting 100% ice covered roadways. As I continued to check the Iowa and Minnesota DOT sites every fifteen minutes for the next two hours, the news got worse. Dark purple sections of road (travel not advised), tow bans (for those unlucky souls who were on the road and ended up in a ditch), and hazard triangles showing the locations of crashes proliferated. By 10:30 the weather radar and road maps had finally convinced me – the drive home simply was not going to happen until Monday.

And then the most amazing thing happened: within minutes of accepting that the situation was out of my hands, every part of me relaxed. I don’t mean I sat a little more comfortably on Mike’s white IKEA loveseat. I mean, deeply relaxed. Muscles let go of tension, blood slowed to a normal pace in my veins, breathing became deep and regular.

The rest of the day, we took our time. Mike scoured his kitchen sink, I scoured my blog reader for interesting posts. I showered. Mike showered longer. When we left his apartment for lunch, the morning rain was just switching over to ice pellets. By the time we reached our destination, Turtle Bread, the ice was visibly accumulating. Inside the warm bakery/deli, we were cozy, surrounded by fresh-from-the-oven loaves and inhaling warm, humid, yeast-scented air. We talked and laughed as we leisurely ate our salads and homemade chicken pot pies. Facing the windows all along the front of the cafe, I saw the ice turn to big, fat snowflakes which quickly blanketed everything in quiet white. I watched as passersby exhibited varying reactions to the snow, some hunched up inside their winter parkas looking grim and others displaying childlike exuberance and joy.

The remainder of our lazy Sunday flowed from there: browsing the shops in Uptown, Kowalski’s for pizza toppings (we bought fresh pizza dough at Turtle Bread), back to Mike’s for an evening of public television (of course, Downton Abbey!) and fresh food, topped off by a viewing of “The Mexican.” Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt – how can you go wrong?

Honestly, not one minute was “productive” (well, Mike did some laundry), and not one moment was spent worrying about what was not getting done. I had let it all go. As a result, I have rarely passed a day that more perfectly resonated with what I needed from it.

Normally, at this point in one of my posts I would get all academic, sharing the insights I’ve received from a variety of sources addressing exactly this instance. How to let go, how to relax, why I can’t let go, decision-fatigue, blah-dee-blah-blah. But this time, just this once, I want to let the experience speak for itself: the paradox of how an ice storm could suffuse me with so much calm warmth.

Mysteries, Yes
 
Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.~ Mary Oliver ~(Evidence)