Last week while walking the dog, he made a beeline for a particular patch of bushes and tried to get through the underbrush. He's a big collie, and not known for having the best nose in the dog world, but he doesn't miss a thing with his eyes and collie antenna.
I went over to see what was so interesting, and found a blob of silver trash hobbling beneath the bushes. It took several seconds to really understand what it was--a sparrow, trying to fly away from us, but pinned to the earth with a huge wad of duct tape stuck to its tail feathers. On closer inspection, it was clear the sparrow was a fledgling and those cheeping birds above us were distraught family members.
I felt sickened.
I tried to get closer, to somehow capture the bird, but it was too fast (amazingly) and obviously freaking out, and then I felt badly adding to its distress.
I called the dog away and we watched as the fledgling found a hiding place. We continued our walk. I took the dog home and retrieved our pond net, thinking I might capture the little guy. But when I returned and tried, I just managed to scare him more, until he literally disappeared. Even with duct tape, he had managed to hide himself too well for my half assed intervention.
I walked home, feeling ineffectual and disgusted.
Of course,we humans like to draw analogies and create metaphors and perhaps that's what makes us so human.
My mind was working overtime with all the symbolic imagery. Human trash that will never degrade naturally, careless treatment of our Mother Earth and its inhabitants, toxic chemicals used to make the tape which surely sickened those who made it and carried the sickness home to family, all the bazillion rolls of duct tape waiting to be purchased at big box mega-stores that tar over acres of earth and hold enormous financial swords of doom over our heads, even as we go to buy the duct tape....I could go on....
I recalled a time my husband and I were in New York City visiting family, we had parked the car and were waiting to all go out to breakfast. Across the street, a pigeon sort of tumbled down from a fire escape, trailing the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag like a little parachute, which was somehow attached to it's wings. At first we laughed, because it seemed so absurd, as if someone had fitted the bird out with a para-sail, but the more we watched how the bird struggled just to walk and gain altitude, the more depressing the scene became.
My husband got out of the car and chased the pigeon down until he was able to grab the bag, pulling the bird closer in a mad flurry of wings. In an instant, he removed the bag. The pigeon vaulted into the sky, liberated.
D felt good all day about his success. And I did too. That's the sort of image that keeps me awake at 3 a.m. as I mull over what-if scenerios. Now I can add the duct taped sparrow.
As a Buddhist priest I recite daily the Vow of the Bodhisattva and the Vow of the Kesa--"I wear the Tathagata Teachings". But I need to continually remind myself that there are places where saving all sentient beings is a work in progress, not a moment of Shazam! we're all free!
I remind myself that I can not know what my intentional action will cause, or how the ripples of effect upon effect will transform the initial action. I can only act with the best intention I can muster, given the skills I have available at that moment.
Sometimes the effects are immediate, like the pigeon finally being liberated from its earthly human garbage, maybe only to get its head stuck in a tin can, rummaging through yet another trash heap of our making.
Other times, we may chase the fledgling around the bushes with a fishing net, only to force deep fear, deep hiding, deep repression. And then what?
We see ourselves in the struggles of the natural world around us, and we empathize--there's really no separation here, and we intuit this fact on a fundamental level. Mindfully, we try to live from this realization.
But here's another way of looking at things, and call me naive, but this is what I prefer to consider today: perhaps all that chasing around in the underbrush forced the fledgling into the perfect V of a bush, where somehow he wedged his little bird body so tightly that he could only go forward, and in going forward, he was able to pull the duct tape free, liberating himself in the process, and leaving the tape stuck to the bush, which hardly cares at all.
We spend a lifetime, a very short lifetime really, trying to free ourselves of delusion, of greed and anger, and the residue of our habitual thought patterns and actions. Mindfully, we acknowledge places that force us into that V in the proverbial underbrush, where there is something that must be left behind as we push forward, if we are to awaken and find freedom from suffering.
This morning I looked once again for the sparrow fledgling on our walk, but there was no sign of him. But I thought I spotted something silvery and wadded up, back in the undergrowth, stuck to a low branch....with no birds in sight.