Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Yesterday afternoon, I took my class outside for a short writing exercise about autumn. I asked them to write about the current weather, and then tell the rest of the class three things they saw that were signs of the season. As I looked around myself, noticing the bare tree limbs, and fallen leaves of various shades of orange and red, I heard a call. Shifting my eyes until they were filled with crow - a very large one, perched atop a tree across the street - I forgot my class for a little while.
The sun had fallen behind the houses, and there was a slight, cool wind: just enough to make the skin shiver. I found myself standing still, letting it all in: my students discussing vocabulary, the cool air, the bare tree limbs, the quiet houses, and the crow. It, too, was still and, occasionally, very loud. Almost too loud to just be viewed as another bird in a tree making noise. I kept looking back at this big, black bird that somehow so easily sat on the edge of a thin reed of wood, as if it had given up worrying about logistics, and simply was being who it was in the moment. I heard my students discussion vocabulary, struggling to string together sentences in a second language, as this bird and I took in the world together.
What I find really interesting is how I seem to be more and more drawn to the commonplace. Everyday conversations with friends and family. Simple walks through my neighborhood. Crows and squirrels, two of the most common animals in the city. I have always been someone who loves being outside, loves the natural world to the point of refraining from deliberately killing even it's not so pleasant of manifestations. And yet, it wasn't too long ago that a crow in a tree, a falling leaf, or a scampering squirrel were just things going on that I mostly ignored.
In a lot of ways, Zen practice, or any spiritual practice worth its weight, is about stripping away the need for the extraordinary. Not that rare, unusual things, ecstatic states, or colorful events are bad, but we seem to have too much desire for them, at the expense of the vast majority of our lives.
The sound of that crow cawing rattled its way through my body as yet another reminder to pay attention to your life as it is. And as it did, I noticed the talking had quieted down, and the writing had almost stopped. I looked at one of my students, and she asked me a question. It was time to go back in, and finish the rest of the class.
Quick note: the little bird in the tree of the photo is not a crow.
Posted by Nathan at 7:50 AM