Wednesday, January 29, 2014

One crow for sorrow

There is a children's rhyme that I didn't know until I met a woman in my writer's group for whom it holds a special draw.

"One crow for sorrow,
Two crows for joy,
Three crows a girl,
Four crows a boy,
Five crows are silver,
Six crows are gold,
Seven crows a secret -
never to be told."

It is human nature to seek to see omens and symbolism in events that while maybe not random, are natural and make much more sense than the stories we try to place on them. But it is also a part of developing human nature to assume that whatever happens in the natural world is all about us. I say "developing" because it is a recognized part of human development to first go through a stage where there is no recognized division between you and anything else (ie. they upset me and then got sick so I am the cause of it); to thinking that you are the focus of the Universe (ie. I didn't know what to do and then an eagle flew overhead and I knew it was the right decision); to the the mature outlook in which all is held in balance (ie. I don't know what the f**k just happened but I better sit down and think things through again).

It is too easy to dismiss things that happen as both being completely random, or to equally dismiss them by assigning them a value that we can interpret. That assumes a godlike ability to know the ways and workings of a Universe that has been around far longer than we have and does quite a few things without taking us into account thankyouverymuch.

Do things happen randomly that mean nothing - yes
Do things happen that have deep meaning and purpose - yes
Do things happen coincidentally that serve to illuminate our situations - yes

Do all of the above mean you can predict or understand what something means? No. All of the above should be a reminder that contemplation of your actions and motivations is the only way to know how to handle life.

We are driven by something called the Pollyanna Principle. It is the inability to face ugly or uncomfortable realities for very long. We prefer to see the sunshiny things in life, and if we can't find puppies and ponies, we will settle for the reverse sunshiny quality of meaning and purpose. To think that bad things can happen just because they can and without a deeper meaning or purpose is almost unbearable to endure. 

This can make understanding karma complicated. Karma implies that there is cause and causation. But it doesn't imply that there is cause and effect, that is the common mistake that people make about karma. Things don't happen as retribution or reward for things done or undone in this life or others, things happen because of what was caused to begin, or not begin, because of what you did or did not do. The difference is that one assumes a judgement that places you squarely back into a self-centered worldview full of ego, and the other assumes that things play out. Some you can kind of tell how they are going to go, and some can take eons to develop - and change course as they go and evolve. To live without causing harm then, is to seek to be the cause of that which causes no harm. If you can then define what this will be, you can go to the head of the class and have a bon bon while the rest of us try to catch up.

I am learning much from the finches. They are not at all what I expected them to be like (ohhhh, surprise). 
I have four, not two, and am still not sure how that happened. I also made a spot decision based upon me that is playing out in very interesting ways. Perhaps, these finches will be the greatest teachers of all in my life. I am humbled by what I have already learned.

You see, 
it was a dark and stormy night (it was), but it was warmer than it had been and a radical cold spell was coming so I decided if I was going to get the finches, that was the day to do it. The bus doesn't even come close to the finch place so I walked the mile and a half in. I figured (silly me), get finches and get cab. I played out the whole scenario in my head while walking.

In the store there were about 40 zebra finches jammed in a cage and then two other cages with 4 finches each (plus a ton of parrots and conures). The finches that were separate were beautiful and very high priced. Since this was my first finch foray (forgive me for that) I decided on the $9.99 ones. I told the little old man who fit under my arm pit that I wanted four (still don't know why) and that one of them had to be one of the white ones. I started to watch him catch the birds (shove arm in cage, grab wildly, curse in Portuguese) and said, "I'll leave and come back so you can do this without me watching." I liked the white one because it was so beautiful and so different. When I came back he handed me a tiny box with holes in it and 4 very pissed off finches.

Called for a cab. Called five companies and was told that they "didn't have anything in that area." Which to me was the whole point of a cab, you drive the cab out to get the fare but who am I to argue? So I stuffed the little box in my book bag and walked the 2 and a half miles home, on a cane, in the increasingly cold weather with my headphones in and chants cranked so I wouldn't hear any feathery little death throws. 
To say that they had bonded by the time I got there is a bit of an understatement. It took them about 15 minutes to overcome the shock and discover what a student refers to as "finch nirvana." The 3 foot flight cage full of swings, perches, ladders, treats, nests and toys.

It took me 20 minutes of watching them to realize I had no right to name them. I can tell two of them apart. One is white, one has a band on his leg. They are all male so they all sing (squawk/talk). The three others have the same coloring. En masse they are referred to as "the finches," "the busy bees," or "the little lunatics." Between the four of them they must have a brain the size of a drop of water but they are remarkably busy, attentive, interactive and communicative. The mad kitten is exhausted. Its like finally getting cat cable. She can't reach them (something it took them about a half hour to figure out) but you can tell she dreams big.

As birds of warning, they are meant to teach you about what it takes to keep relationships and community healthy, and again, already I am humbled by the experience of what they reveal to me. They naturally pair off, they are driven to it. I knew already not to get an odd number because they would bully the lone bird. I didn't expect the difficulties the little white one would face. He is paired, sort of, with one of the others that deigns to sit a few inches away when it is time to sleep but otherwise, the white one is pushed off. I felt so bad I was considering going back and getting two more, another white one and another regular. Until I saw that the white one is very aggressive, bullying and perhaps the most confident of the birds. If they are fighting, I now know its because the little white one is chasing one of the others away from the treat dish he has claimed. When I put an absolutely traumatizing new toy in (a crumpled ball of newspaper) the other three flew around like it was the end of the world and it was the white one that calmed down first to go investigate and return order to the cage.

When they don't respond to something new, I have learned, it does not mean they do not like it. They just are momentarily not into it. They don't like human interaction and don't want you to mess with them, but they like to be included and acknowledged.

They are as jealous of the cat as the cat is of them for attention.

They don't like music, but they do like certain pitches of instrument and voice. They love it when I use the bicycle pump (it has become how I say hello). They are mad for the sound of ripping duct tape.

And the group mind experience, that in and of itself is proving to be a revelation about how we work in groups too.

One thing I have also noticed is how they immediately changed my life. I know longer feel driven to go seek a cafe for some social company when working, I would rather stay at the center because they bring a sense to life it in a way that is very different from the cat and fish. They are also transforming the ritual of meditation and the qi gong and kung fu practices. When they give out their group "wheee!" when I ring the meditation bell, it is a reminder that what is within is not nearly as important as what is in the whole world. They love the qi gong that is done with the iron rings. All in all, they are serving as a prevention to taking oneself too seriously and becoming too involved in internal processes and beliefs that really - have no basis in reality.
I find that since they have arrived, I have begun to lose my sense of past and future and my decision making and leadership abilities have become more clearly defined and easier to implement.

Strange that all of this comes from a small group of birds that only like each other sometimes.
But isn't that a fairly accurate description of how community really is?

I recently read a horrific description of a utopian society in which the health of the community would be known by its constant and consistent upbeat and joyous presentation. It made me laugh and think the author needed some finches to serve as peers to correct some very wrong thinking since the lessons of the sutras seemed not to have made a difference. A utopia doesn't mean there is never any discord,  just that it is always resolved so as to not cause harm.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2014 Whitecage Finchsled Review – 3 beaks up!

The hotly anticipated arrival of the 2014 Whitecage Finchsled has consumers talking about this latest offering in the market for environmentally responsible, alternative energy vehicles. The 2014 Whitecage Finchsled is a personal transportation device designed for short urban distances. Unlike electric scooters, there is no need to recharge frequently and the minimal waste produced by the Whitecage Finchsled is negligible when compared to other vehicles in its class. There are some definite drawbacks for those looking for a more plug-n-play alternate energy vehicle that won’t require a change to their lifestyle and the Whitecage Finchsled isn’t a perfect fit for all. For those whose life the Finchsled quirks fit – it can be an ideal way to escape the fossil fuel trap.

The styling
The 2014 Whitecage Finchsled is  available in an Arctic Ice White with a smooth coat finish that reduces air drag and increases the overall efficiency of the vehicle without sacrificing any of its curb appeal. Seating is ample with optional luggage ladder and swing style activity seats to keep even the most active child entertained on long trips. The view is 360 and there are few blind spots. The Whitecage engineers went with a narrow bar suspension support that spreads the weight of the vehicle across the entire frame size rather than focusing it on a few select stress points that would require the tradition auto pillar construction. The 2014 Whitecage Finch sled is a 6 door model with the 6th door being an inset access door in the larger hatch. This eliminates the need to have to open up the Whitecage wide in order to get out small items. Everything about the 2014 Whitecage Finchsled is designed to maximize efficiency while preserving comfort and ease of maintenance.

The power
The 2014 is powered by a combination 4TZF propulsion system. This system uses cylinders comprised of one self-contained turbo zebra finch with unbanded legs to allow for maximum thermogenic energy transfer and to prevent high pulse rate clogging common to this valve structure. The 4TZFs can operate similar to the variable valve control found on most fossil fuel powered engines, the onboard computer GM system also enables them to function independently and then to band together as one individual to respond to changes in the environment before you are even aware of them. Each 4TZF requires minimal daily maintenance and the entire engine compartment is designed for easy daily care without having to remove the propulsion unites.

The pluses and the minuses
While the 2014 Whitecage Finchsled is a vast improvement over the failed 2013 Emptycorner model. There are still some key issues with the design that may not make it an ideal form of transportation for most. While powerful and responsive, the 4TZF propulsion system can only lift a combined weight of 5 ounces. Given that the Whitecage frame weighs 20lbs empty, this has caused a significant loss in potential transport range. There is also an issue of sustained power, the cylinders can only provide GM coordination for a limited amount of time before the cylinders are distracted by bathtubs, bells or other shiny roadway hazards. The other issue is that while the 4TZFs require little in fuel and leave an imperceptible carbon footprint, they do prefer a consistent temperature above 72 degrees TZFs chirping away and straining at the perch to race, any home feels light airy and capable of roaring off into the sunset and unpredictable adventure.

The verdict
The 2014 Whitecage Finchsled is the alternate fuel vehicle of choice to have if you are so into alternate means of transportation that you really don’t have to go anywhere. The secret to the 4TZF propulsion system isn’t in how fast or far you can go, it’s that fully running – you won’t want to go anywhere at all. This makes it the most fuel efficient vehicle in its class. Good looking, aerodynamic, charming with a built in stereo sound system that makes you sound like you are in a live concert hall plus environmentally responsible – the 2014 Whitecage Finchsled is the urban alternative vehicle to own.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Diamonds are Daisies

I am still finchless. That will be resolved within a few days but it has been surprisingly difficult to find them. I was just at the point of breaking down and getting parakeets - my private student had cancelled for the evening and I knew I would have time then or a short window on Friday to go to the store. I had just made up my mind that the parakeets would have to do and was getting ready to leave when the doorbell rang. It was a man I know who randomly drops by every few months to give me whatever training equipment he has come across in his travels so I invited him in. He saw the empty flight cage and immediately told me of the only place to go in the area to get finches and it just happens to be about a mile away.

I lit a candle before Kwan Yin after he left and said, "You know so much more than me."

this is not a finch
One of the conversations I am having with a sutra student is about the nature of jewels. Big jewels, rare jewels, shining bright and risk your life to wear them down the street jewels. It came up, as we meander through the sutras and exchange our letters and poems, that I wondered if they had ever wondered why - if Buddhism is so about not becoming attached to things etc, that jewels feature so prominently in the descriptions of the Pure Land.
Not just prominently but they drip from the trees, form the cobble stones on the streets, fill the treasure houses and one Buddha, Maitreya, is attended by a finance minister that whenever he gives advice it has no words because he opens his mouth and floods of jewels fall out. The curious thing that is mentioned in several of the sutras but only in passing, is that when people come to visit the pure land - people like you and me who are lifetimes away from being present in one all the time - people like you and me fall to our knees at the sight of these store houses and weep with grief.
I asked my student why they thought this was, and why jewels were such an important metaphor and symbol in the sutras. They are still working on the possible reasons, so I won't make this post a spoiler, but I will share how far they have come.
The first few rounds were all about how the jewels represent the perfection of the dhamma, of self, of purity, of enlightenment and the answer was - simpler. Find the simpler answer. Jewels may be a metaphor for all those things but that is what is piled on later because they are already present in the story for a reason.
Then they got closer and said, "because they represent value because they are so rare."
And they got this question in response, "Are they really that rare?"
"No, its more how we set up and control their value. But some of them are limited in how many there are so that makes them rare."
"Really? Why are there so few?"
"Because the natural process that makes them takes so long."
"By whose calender are you measuring time?"
"Oh.......oh wow."

This is also not a finch

Fortunately, in my online browsing for finch info I have found videos of them that let me hear how they sound and see how they move. It is really interesting how different types of finches are of no interest to me and some very much are. I love to watch Zebra finches, but hearing a European Society Finch moves me. I loved the look of the Owl Finch but fortunately, the Mad Kitten was in my lap when I played a video of them and heard their song. She was immediately up and running around in a tizzy. Their song would have driven us both crazies.

Owl finches mew like kittens.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

speaking slowly and loudly

So I just caught myself speaking slowly and loudly to someone who totally didn't need that type of treatment. I then caught myself justifying why speaking slowly and loudly was appropriate. Then I told myself to shut up and blog about it. Sometimes blogging is a way to clear out the cobwebs and move something out of its "grey and okay" area where working it out in a private diary would keep it.
I have discovered that part of being willing to blog is to be willing to be messy and make mistakes and then talk about it in public. Blogs tend to encourage the promotion of self-sainthood whether in trumpeting good deeds or indulging in a bizarre form of mea culpa masochism that is narcissism hidden.
Speaking of narcissism...let's get back to the story about me
So I was speaking slowly and loudly to a man who was obviously on medication and hearing voices. Part of my concern was being loud enough to catch his attention. The bit about me speaking loudly with simple syllable words? I own that and had a bit of an ouch moment as I recalled a recent rant session to a friend about how strangers will opt to speak slowly and loudly to me because of the cane.
Such is life.
Bob and Carol are getting ready to join the family at Dragon Mountain. So we will be a fat, spoiled cat, three dirty fish, a perpetually tired teacher with a habit of speaking slowly and loudly when inappropriate and two finches, Bob and Carol. The names may change to protect the innocent and depending on the reality of having them. The mad kitten will have to adjust.
this could be Bob and Carol
But why add birds? Especially when you consider I have enough outside. And why finches? There are reasons upon reasons for it that I will expound on as time goes by, but one of the biggest or more accurately, two of the biggest are 1) it adds a different type of life to the mix and 2) finches don't want to mess with people at all.
Finches like finches. They do not want to be handled. They do not want to learn tricks. They like their own company and a very busy and industrious company it is. I have found that the people who come to work with me are often five steps removed from being present in life. The fish, the cat and now the birds bring an experience that helps to return awareness in life. When the cat grabs her stuffed mouse and runs out to be a part of your session because she associates you with love and laughter and playing - that can change how someone feels about their place in the world.
Now add Bob and Carol to the mix. Two delicate, busy and happy souls who just want to be left to their own devices. This should be interesting.
Oh yes...finches are also a traditional Chinese element to ensure prosperity and happiness in relationships.