Lessons from Birds
Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica
"In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence." -Robert Lynd
For seven months now I have been watching a family of Kiskadees living high up in a tree directly outside the windows where I enjoy my morning coffee and spend most of my time. Birds are resilient and remarkable creatures. This row of windows overlooks the lush trees and infinite varieties of plants and flowers surrounding the tiny casa where I live.
I have learned many lessons by watching this family of birds and their daily activities. Most mornings they are up before I am, although the sun has yet to make its appearance over the horizon. Their unique repertoire of songs and calls is now easily identifiable for me as we have lived as neighbors for more than half a year. During early mornings and the dusk of evening they echo back and forth with others from their flock across the mountain.
It has been remarkable to watch their nest over the many months of heavy rains, massive winds and dusty heat. The nest sits about twenty feet up in the air in a very thin tree that bobs and sways in the wind. The past several days have been endless stretches of epic force winds blowing through Costa Rica in upwards of 80 kilometers per hour. Plants have been scorched, patio furniture blown across the lawn and power and internet has dropped in and out over the course of several days.
Each morning I watch as this tree, the home to this family of Kiskadees has been blown and tossed almost completely to the ground. Yet, still their tiny nest of twigs and straw holds together and they return to it each evening at dusk. Yesterday, in the early morning I watched as one of them fought to carry a cotton ball it had somehow managed to find up to its next. As the wind was gusting and the tree was being tossed from side to side, it struck me as inspiring that this tiny creature, less than the size of the palm of my hand, was navigating all of this amidst wind that would be difficult to walk in, but it was doing all of this with only a tiny beak and no hands. I thought of the many trips it made with one twig or branch at a time in its beak to build its home, one which has clearly been constructed well enough to withstand the many seasons of rain and epic winds.
These birds and their tiny nest provided such a lesson in resilience and patience. What a metaphor for simply waking up each morning and doing our simple tasks that are needed to sustain our lives, while withstanding the elements and storms of life, and when and if it becomes necessary, quietly rebuilding again. Something in the simplicity and consistency of this seemingly insignificant way of life is actually a recipe for peacefulness and tranquility.
And so, we wake up each day, carry a few branches and twigs to build and maintain our nest, then weather life’s storms and uncertainties with grace a dignity. And if necessary, we rebuild again.
"A monk decides to meditate alone.
Away from his monastery, he takes a boat and goes to the middle of the lake, closes his eyes and begins to meditate.
After a few hours of unperturbed silence, he suddenly feels the blow of another boat hitting his.
With his eyes still closed, he feels his anger rising and, when he opens his eyes, he is ready to shout at the boatman who dared to disturb his meditation.
But when he opened his eyes, he saw that it was an empty boat, not tied up, floating in the middle of the lake…
At that moment, the monk achieves self-realization and understands that anger is within him; it simply needs to hit an external object to provoke it.
After that, whenever he meets someone who irritates or provokes his anger, he remembers: “The other person is just an empty boat. Anger is inside me.“
~Thich Nhat Hanh
View from the Road
Early Morning Hike through the Bamboo, Mora, Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s English speaking newspaper, The Tico Times, recently began running a column on my travel journals from my first three months in Costa Rica during the rainy season. The column will be an ongoing series through the eyes of my experiences during my first season here along the Guanacaste coast. I hope you enjoy following along.
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Zen and Ink Journals represents hundreds of hours of writing over the past decade, sometimes from a train in remote China or a coffee shop in Kyoto, a hammock in Costa Rica or a simple cabin on a mountaintop in Boquete, Panama or Ciudad Colón.
On these pages, I share my observations of kindness and beauty from my adventures in the world and invite you to listen quietly for the call within you to explore the places that beckon your soul.
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