A bird has been visiting my window while I meditate in the morning. And unfortunately by “visiting”, I mean “repeatedly slamming into”. He sees his reflection in the glass, assumes a rival bird is invading his territory, and launches a repeated offensive on my window pane. But of course his rival is a stubborn opponent, and always matches his attacks, blow for blow. My bird friend obviously can’t back down or he might loose his seat on the tree branch. So he keeps flying into my window, over, and over.
From inside where I sit, his crashes sound like a “flutter-bang-flutter” and the noise makes it more challenging to meditate. I’ve tried to reason with him, but I don’t speak bird. And I’ve tried scaring him away, but he’s very persistent. So I use the distraction as motivation to go deeper into my meditation. Lately he’s also been arriving during my counseling sessions, challenging me to be more interesting than he is, in order to hold my clients’ attention. When we get into core issues that are hard to face, the bird suddenly can become oddly compelling.
Of course there’s the not-so-subtle metaphor to consider. There’re so many situations where our course of action fails to bring positive results, and even causes pain, and yet we continue to bang our head. A bird doesn’t have the brainpower to realize this isn’t working, and stop. But what’s our excuse?
We humans have an innate sense of determination, built into the ego, to help us break through difficulties, so we can survive and thrive. It’s a necessary part of our design. But like so many things, determination has a dark side, and it can become obstinance — determination combined with a refusal to listen to reason. In obstinance we obsessively go after what we think we want, even when the results are painful. It happens in relationships, work, and even in play.
How do we know whether we’re on the right track and just have to keep going, like Edison trying out every possible lightbulb filament till he gets it right — or realize we should just give up and do something else, like my friend the bird? How do we know whether we just haven’t tried hard enough yet, or whether life is trying to tell us we’re at a dead end?
The only way I know to solve this problem, and so many others, is to cultivate the ability to listen deeply, and have the self-honesty to hear the answers. If we really listen, and are willing to accept what we hear, we’ll know what to do, even if that means doing nothing. The challenge is listening in the heart, not the ego, and that’s not always so easy!
I call it “The Art of Deep Listening”. It’s an art designed for an audience of one, just you. And that’s good, because when there’s no outside audience, it’s much harder for the ego to get involved. But like all forms of art, it takes practice and patience to master, and it’s totally worth the effort.