When the Catbird Sings…

June 2008

The maroon fence outside my window is a favorite resting spot for birds. Sometimes they sing a song, but usually they just sit for a moment or two, maybe groom themselves a bit, and then they’re off to the next thing.

In April there was a parade of Carolina wrens, usually en route to the new house with some fresh nesting material. In May, the wrens could still be heard in the distance, but the fence belonged to song sparrows. Now the sparrows are rarely seen or heard, and a pair of catbirds seems to have moved in. (One is meowing on the fence as I write. Nope…now it’s gone. Postscript from end of June: the catbirds are now gone, and the blue jays have taken over.) One evening awhile back, when I was feeling momentarily dispirited, a shy wood thrush, usually heard from far off in the woods, stopped just long enough to sing its magical song.

Whenever a catbird lands on the fence, in the back of my mind there is always the hope that it will sing. If lunch is buckwheat and parsnips (it happens), I wish it were something else. If it’s Thursday after lunch (housecleaning day) I wish it were Friday (incoming mail day). The weather could be warmer…or cooler…or a little less humid. The chanting could be smoother…or more in tune…or faster…or slower….My mind could be free of thoughts…or at least full of better quality ones. What exists that could not be improved!

I have come to suspect that samsara, a.k.a. cyclic existence, this prison of confusion and suffering, might be defined simply as the state of wanting things to be different. Could it be that as soon as we wake up and see things as they are, and are able to rest peacefully in that without wishing them otherwise—whether we are walking on the beach or at work on Monday morning with a bad-tempered colleague—bingo!

In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, of which the Vajrayana is a part, that is not quite the whole story. In order to reach full awakening, we still need to develop and carry out the motivation to help all other beings attain the same state of peace and ultimate happiness.

Still…if only I could rest in the present moment without wishing for a slightly different present moment…then everything would be perfect!

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