I was enjoying an afternoon meditation yesterday in my bedroom. When it was done, I rang the singing bowl three times, as is the custom of many people before me. I sat happy. As I gazed out at the snow-filled field, I saw my young locust tree – 12-feet tall and branches bare. I knew that just to the right of my view were two feeders – for nyjer seed and sunflower seed enthusiasts. It was winter, it was cold and the birds were hungry. I’ve seen as many as twenty sparrow-like birdies on the feeders and underneath them on the snow. At the moment, none were in view. It was 3:43 pm.
A plan hatched itself, accompanied by my fluid brain. “I’m going to sit here until the birdies come, until at least one of them claims a perch on the locust.” There was a twinge of discomfort, and I could feel my thoughts starting to churn. “What if nobody comes? Are you going to sit here all night?” And up came the whole deal about giving my word.
I did a brief cost-benefit analysis of promising to stay in the chair until there was a bird. The chances were really good, I felt, that a feathered one would show itself within ten minutes. I was getting a bit hungry but I could shove that down for awhile. “I can do this!” And then I agreed to do so.
As the minutes unfurled, I looked out my window at the world. The branches were quivering and fluffs of snow danced across the land. There were breaks in the flurries of white and I was always glad when they’d begin again. Way over there on Harrietsville Drive, cars and trucks went their way across my field of vision. It reminded me of my childhood vacations on grandpa’s farm near Lindsay, Ontario, and the steam engine miles away pulling its cars every evening at the same time. I loved the white billows seeking the sky.
“Where have all the birdies gone? They need to eat before sleeping, don’t they?” Perhaps not.
The tall trees across the field by the creek just stood there looking back at me. Through the branches of one, I saw a distant red barn. I wondered if that farmstead was full of sparrows. “When you’re done there, come over here, please.” But all remained still for the time being. My stomach let its presence be known and my bladder chimed in with its own message.
Still alone. I noticed the power pole on Harrietsville. I’ve walked there, standing beside that pole and gazing back at my home. Now I could almost see the tiny Bruce figure on the road.
“This is really strange. Why did I give my word? I want to eat.” And still I sat, feeling something far larger than my stomach. This was a quest.
Suddenly, large birds flew across the horizontal pane at the top of my window. They were flying away from me. Were they seagulls? Whatever they were, I knew that even if I could coax them my way, they’d be too heavy to rest on the branches of my locust tree.
The nothingness fit right in with the softening of light towards sunset. The less light, the less chance that birdies would come by. I made an executive decision: I would stay in my chair until either a bird friend showed itself or I could no longer see the branches of the tree. If I couldn’t see a bird arriving, why stay hungry, bursting and seated?
“I know! I’ll meditate again to pass the birdless time. Even though my eyes will be closed, I’ll be able to hear any nearby chirping. I’ll flash my eyes open and see a feathered one sweetly atop a branch.”
My eyes opened, because I knew the meditation was complete. No chirping had ensued.
“Keep busy,” someone said. I reached over for the tube of lotion and smoothed the goo over my hardened heels. That felt good. I also knew that in the night table beside me there was a blood pressure monitor. I’d promised my doctor to take regular readings, and now was as good a time as any. I took ten readings over the next ten minutes. My best score was 124/79. Good enough.
I’d been sitting here for two-and-a-half hours. (Sigh) “What kind of fool am I?” I asked. “My kind of fool, dear Bruce,” came the answer.
The sun had set at 6:00 but there was still plenty to light to show me the tree. “Keep your word.” Physical needs were advancing towards the red line as I stared at the branches, sadly still visible.
Three hours. There was a vestige of tree but I realized that I couldn’t have identified any birdie there if there had been one. “I declare myself done.” I wondered if I was cheating but I decided I wasn’t.
Bathroom first, kitchen second.
Time for bed. In the darkness of my house, I sat in the meditation chair. There was still the glost of a tree against the night sky but no possible sighting of a birdie. I nodded in integrity and fell beneath the covers.