I am the son of a Zoologist. As a kid, I had birds and snakes and a chipmunk named Fred, who I thought was dead during his first winter hibernation. I raised a baby squirrel one year after my dad failed to convince me I’d never catch him. I caught him mid-air with an empty 5-gallon bucket when he fell from the telephone lines in our back alley. That was the last time I remember Dad betting against me.
Why do I still bet against myself sometimes?
Do you bet against yourself?
Animals have always been part of me. Early into adulthood, before I began making the more rational choices that seem to chase middle age and stifle spontaneous joy, I rescued more than 30 exotic parrots that had been dropped off at a local kennel. Barry was this bright orange Macaw. He had a beautiful wingspan that was more than 3 feet across. Barry was blind, his owners had experimented on him, locking him in a totally dark room for more than 10 years. They treated him exactly like the other parrots in the experiment; the only difference with Barry was that they kept him in total darkness to see if his unused eyes would eventually die. They did.
What neglected parts of me have I let die?
How about you?
Can we bring them back with some love and attention?
Barry was a mess when I got him. He had not been held in years— his apprehension of people and fear of even the slightest movement or sound was severe. I used my voice as our only way to connect. A macaw of Barry’s size could crush my fingers in less than a moment. Within a few months, Barry was lying in my arms like a baby. I could do anything with him; he was as fully integrated as the “normal” parrots. By the time I placed him with a family, only an experienced handler would recognize his disability. He used sounds and feelings to navigate his world. Love and consistency retrained his fear, transforming it into conditional acceptance and trust.
What has transformed your fear?
Where do you find acceptance and trust?
Years later, I learned that his site had returned. His eyes finally re-adjusted to the light.
The people who care for him run a sanctuary with indoor and outdoor facilities that mimic his native land. They tell me that Barry is the most joyful, intelligent, and loving of any they’ve ever encountered.
Does healing trauma help us be more grateful?
Considering parrots live more than 100 years, Barry got a nice do-over; how I see it, he’s filled with gratitude and appreciation.
I have had many opportunities for a do-over, but have I used the opportunity for my greatest good?
Barry taught me a fundamental reality. We must face certain conditions so we can experience others.
If Barry had never been blind, would he have behaved so joyfully?
In the wisdom teachings of the Pali Canon, the Lokavipatti Sutta describes this basic reality as The Eight Worldly Conditions.
They show up in four opposing pairs….creating context that allows us to experience life. Without one, I’m unsure how you’d ever feel the other.
Barry helped me understand these conditions are part of this life. Fighting against this reality manufactures suffering. Recognizing, observing, and accepting this reality has brought me great ease and joy. I think it did for Barry, too.
What else am I not yet looking at that could be transformed?
What aren’t you looking at?
What awarenesses have brought you ease and joy?
I’ve come to know the pendulum of emotion that lives deep in me. When I’m feeling awesome and on fire, hitting it hard, experiencing abundance and gain all around me, I can now observe the tipping point and sometimes, if I’m mindful and aware, watch as my emotions swing. If I slow down and pay attention, I can now observe my feelings as they enter the middle, steadier space before they inevitably continue on into fear, lack, and scarcity.
What are your emotional cycles?
Can you stand and watch them rather than react?
What might happen if you did?
This awareness, thankfully, continues, and as I’m on the darker side of the pendulum I have the same awareness of moving out of the fear back to the center, into the steadier space, and eventually back to the high point.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten through literally just by holding on and waiting for things to change. I was blind, just like Barry, to this basic universal nature for so long, and life has become filled with so much more grace, ease, and joy due to this knowing.
With diligent, rigorous practice and lots of time on task over time, I’ve become more suspect when I feel “high” or “low .”When something is awesome, inspiring, and feels spectacular, I’ve learned to pause, assess, and question how real it really is. When things suck, and everything looks dark and hopeless, I also pause and assess.
What are you assessing?
Are you aware of your highs and lows so you know how to act?
What practices might help you increase your awareness?
Now, I stay centered for more extended periods. That’s been a tangible benefit of meditation. I am still swinging ( proof that I’m alive), but now I try to patiently wait for the center space before making choices. I try hard to have the center, the middle path, be the point from which I operate, yielding measurable peace and joy, just like Barry.
Do you have a set point you operate from?
What would happen to your life if you did?
“Observing happiness and pain arising in the mind, and remaining open to them without attaching to or rejecting them, enables wisdom to grow in one’s heart, even in the most emotionally charged circumstances. Seeing these eight worldly conditions for what they are and watching the mind’s reactions to them gives rise to the liberating insight. The benefits of this knowledge are not to be felt only when in meditative states but also in the world at large, in the face of all the gain, loss, fame, obscurity, blame, praise, happiness, and pain that life has to offer.” ~ Buddha