Birds. They embody the un-embodied. They are as the very wind, a zephyr. Almost pure spirit — if not for the feathers. My attraction to them is echoed in all my worldly attachments, most of which aren’t that worldly. As you may have gathered by my photography and writing, I am drawn to the sky and stars.
I am also drawn to birds for this same — in alchemical terms — overabundance of spirit. I have been in turmoil, mind and body in a tortured battle for supremacy. This blind dualism has been further reinforced by a tumultuous and destabilizing romantic relationship. No doubt my Achilles heel, and as a Freudian analyst would say, yet another reason I like “birds”. The Id is a real pun-y guy.
Yesterday mind and body just collided…Bits came apart and things curled off in wild orbits, lacking any cohesiveness. The body was damaged — scarred but still fully functional — and the mind shifted uncomfortably.
And where was spirit? Somehow in the midst of all that spirit appeared. And it brought calm to what could have been an even worse situation.
This morning, after it was all over, I went outside. And there were the birds. There was a wet, foggy, quiet over everything, what one might call the ideal bird environment. It’s in those times when I think birds remember their deepest Jurassic roots. One might even say life remembers. Dinosaurs with feathers has always seemed like an apt phrase.
The birds were everywhere. Little songbirds — sparrows, finches, juncos — fluttered in and out among the leafless branches in the garden. The air was alight with “bird-ness”. A Stellar’s Jay, boisterous and bold, chased the smaller birds away from the neighbor’s feeder.
I decided to do more than step outside briefly and actually immersed myself in the space. I grounded myself, took a few breaths and found Malkuth very deeply…
And just as I opened my eyes an eagle soared across my field of vision and perched on one of the highest nearby trees. He displaced a companion, who settled on the top of another tree beside him.
As I just watched (I often ask now…When do we “just watch”?) these two regal incarnations of spirit I thought of a quote from a book I am currently reading — Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth — that reminded me of why I — and in some way we all — like birds:
“Since time immemorial, flowers, crystal, precious stones, and birds have special significance for the human spirit. Like all life-forms, they are, of course, temporary manifestations of the underlying one Life, one Consciousness. Their special significance and the reason why humans feel such fascination for and affinity with them can be attributed to their ethereal quality.
Once there is certain degree of Presence, of still and alert attention in human beings’ perceptions, they can sense the divine life essence, the one indwelling consciousness or spirit in every creature, every life-form, recognize it as one with their own essence and so love it for themselves. Until this happens, however, most humans see only the outer forms, unaware of the inner essence, just as they are unaware of their own essence and identify only with their own physical and psychological forms.
In the case of a flower, a crystal, precious stone, or bird, however, even someone with little or no Presence can occasionally sense that there is more there than the mere physical existence of form, without knowing that this is the reason why he or she is drawn towards it, feels an affinity with it. Because of its ethereal nature, its form obscures the indwelling spirit to a lesser degree than is the case with other life-forms. The exception to this are all newborn life-forms — babies, puppies, kittens, lambs, and so on. They are fragile, delicate, not yet firmly established in materiality. An innocence, a sweetness and beauty that are not of this world still shine through them. They delight even relatively insensitive humans.
So when you are alert and contemplate a flower, crystal, or bird without naming it mentally, it becomes a window for you into the formless. There is an inner opening, however slight, into the realm of spirit. This is why these three “en-lightened” life-forms have played such an important part in the evolution of human consciousness since ancient times; why, for example, the jewel in the lotus flower is a central symbol of Buddhism and a white bird, the dove, signifies the Holy Spirit in Christianity. They have been preparing the ground for a more profound shift in planetary consciousness that is destined to take place in the human species. This is the spiritual awakening that we are beginning to witness now.”*
As I continued to turn this idea — the symbolic bird — around in my mind I also tried to get beyond the “I” of it. Of what it means to me. Today, because of the “news” of the world, I thought of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, a book largely devoted to her experiences of racism growing up in the southern US. I reflected on the powerful sway of ego in the world we live in, and of the way it generates notions of race and of identity — both as it is lived and as it is projected onto the living. I think the final stanza of the poem that the book’s title centres around is a universal (that isn’t universal):
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
For much of the last few months I have bemoaned what I perceived as my own loss of freedom, something that has been difficult for me to understand and accept. In truth I have access to a kind of freedom, a kind of privilege, if you will, that many do not have. And yet, in a way as the above quote suggests, we can all have access to that privilege — that freedom. And this is true even when we aren’t free.
I don’t know what that means. It doesn’t mean much.
But it does leave me with a question:
When did we start caging birds at all? And why?
*Quote From Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (New York: Plume [Penguin], 2006), 3-5.