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.

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