Owls and Jays: A Meditation on Meditation
I had an interesting experience this morning.
Not long after I awoke, I got a “hit” to meditate outside in early morning hours just before daybreak. The temperature was chilly, but the owls were calling, and the sun was about to begin to rise. Although it was mid-winter Portland grey, something about that situation wanted communion.
Something wanted to be heard.
So, I gathered my “sacreds,” my little portable altar (called a "mesa"), my rattles, moon water, etc. and went outside. It took a while to do this. Most of these items live in my ladder-accessible loft, where I generally do my meditation. Using my pulley system, I lowered them down, and moved them outside. Finally I settled in. Now sitting on my front porch, I acknowledged the directions, and rattled open sacred space - all the things I generally do every morning and most evenings.
Now I’m in my wooden chair, allowing my gaze to soften toward the trees that live maybe 50 feet in front of me. I let my mind quiet. Or I willed it to, anyway (it never goes too “gently into that good night”).
Going to my breath, I sat, feeling my energetic Connection to Pachamama, acknowledging the brightening morning sky above with Wakan Tanka’s wonders of cloud, blue expanse and hidden stars, moon and planets. My breath deepened and evened out. Peace alit, shy as a weasel, then steady as a bison…
Or maybe a puppy. Or a bison puppy. Do they make bison puppies? That might be a better metaphor, because not long after settling into my breathing, an errant, but hyper-obvious thought comes to me: “It’s chilly out here.”
I was bundled up, but the statement was correct. Why was I out here, again? Oh, yeah. Owls. The magic of pre-morning ritual. Right. The breath, Marley. The breath.
Just then, an obnoxious squawk splits the air: blue jay. “Here they come,” I think with a wry smile on my non-meditative lips.
Some practice I’m having here, so far.
I make it a habit to put wild bird food out for the critters around my little cabin. I say, “critters” because there are plenty of chipmunks that enjoy it, too, along with rabbits, field mice, and deer (although I think an owl ate my rabbit. It happens. It’s the wild west out here.)
Bunny mortality aside, I love the activity of the small creatures. They’re frenetic and yet seem so wise, singular of purpose, connected. They’re like the extreme sport athletes of Life; more daring than mere virus’, microbes, mushrooms, or trees, they live on the knife edge of survival. They contracted with their Sacred Reality to be content to hunt down their sustenance in this incarnation, daily. Like the ancient indigenous, they eat what they can find. To not “find” is to cease to exist. Maybe that’s what I love so much about seeing them; the simple fact of their being is without any pretense at all. Their focus is mandatory, like that of a guy paddling for a 60-foot wave. It makes them seem holy to me, like little Yodas. I can’t get enough of them.
Most of these small ones seem to spend a lot of time in the small stand of trees in front of me, the same ones upon which I tragically (for my meditation practice) focused my gaze.
But the ‘jays don’t live in this stand of trees. They’re kind of scattered around, making them the itinerant preachers of the noisy Gospel of Food Location... or maybe madrigals that can't sing very well. But, while their nests are not as local as that of the smaller ones, they’re certainly more vocal. They’ve arrived in a flock within seconds. Now there’s a pile of them feeding. The few other early rising sparrows, towhees and wrens, scatter in their wake.
Even the owls, my wise, old companions in life, the stable hunters, the stealthy fliers, go silent. They don’t seem to enjoy the cacophony, either. “Have some self-respect,” they say to the jays. And the owls fall silent.
Now, I know from experience that, while they’re bigger, brasher and more obnoxious than the rest of the other birds, jays are also the most nervous. All I have to do is threaten to move, and they fly off in a noisy, scolding, blue-gray bolt.
I intentionally move my leg, and they do just that. A few seconds later, the other birds begin to filter back. They look happy to be pecking at the feed, now unmolested by the bullies.
I fade back into my meditation again, this time with eyes closed. (Not my first rodeo. Like, my third.) Familiar milky silence ensues. Breath becomes the focus. As I concentrate on the “pixels” behind my closed eyes, a vision begins to form. This is rare, but has yielded some amazing experiences in the past. I go with it, staying with my breath as I observe the unfolding. My meditations are busy affairs with breathing, pixels and occasional visions, it’s true. But it’s not as bad as it seems. It’s a lot more work to write the process than it is to practice it. Like many people's practices, most of what I describe here is fairly automatic.
During my practice, anyway. In the safety of my own home. Not so much during the day.
I stay this way for a while, not quite as long as my standard practice - maybe only 15 minutes or so. The Vision is becoming a Vision-With-A-Capital-V. An idea comes to me, delivered by a Being I know but who seldom shows up. I listen to his message, filled with gratitude. I understand. I file it away, return to the breath, and more comes. More filling, more filing. The idea, something I’ve never considered, seems to be complete. And then …
Smiling, I crack one eye open. About a dozen jays have taken advantage of my stillness and are now on the ground, feeding noisily, jumping around one another, acting out like colorful toddlers dressed in their Sunday best. A couple sparrows observe from the trees, sulking. I move a leg. The jays blare their air horns and vanish again.
Owls, sparrows, chipmunks and jays. So much like my meditation. So much like my life. Maybe like yours, too.
There are aspects of our lives that are wise as owls, aren't there? They’re separate, rarely seen, and generally only heard in stillness.
The sparrows, towhees, and wrens are the ones who need food every day. They do their nine-to-five thing the best they can. The ease of their lives, such as it might be, depends on it. But there is a sacredness to simply providing for the needs of the body in a conscious, focused way, right? I think there is. In my meditation practice, these are the bodily tools of my practice – the breath, the mudras, the aligning of the chakras.
The chipmunks and mice – these folks store things away. In my physical world, they’re fastidious little savers, planning ahead, looking at things closely - a lot like the places my mind seems to go. These little monsters can be tricky. Occasionally they get into trouble. Like when they enter places that they’re not supposed to; inside the cabin, for instance. My mind has the same characteristics. Imbued with wisdom, it can still find itself in places it's not meant to be. Open fields where things I let go now live. Rooms I've cleared, carefully cleaned, and closed.
In my meditation, the little mammals are my portable altars: my mesa and chanupa. They “store” my soulful experiences. It’s why I take such good care of them, talk to them, use them respectfully. The chipmunks are also my more stationery personal altar that lives aloft. They’re my skulls, feathers, and woluta. Even the sacred nature of my tattoos remind me of the transcendent experiences I’ve had, bringing them to my busy, busy mind and helping it focus on the eternal with greater frequency.
The jays… well, if you have jays in your life, you know what they represent. I was once told never to put a blue jay feather on my altar because it would represent and attract discord, just as their call is discordant. Even so, I have to say that I love these birds, and always have. Even in my youth, I remember thinking they were beautiful and entertaining in their movements and antics.
In my life, these are the trouble I get myself into when my actions don’t align with my soulful desires. And that happens. Boy, does it ever. And when it does, the cacophonous craziness can be a little much. Their calls can chase away the peace I feel when I’m able to be still with my breath and just sit.
In meditation, they’re the errant thoughts that show up. They’re not the rare visions that appear. They’re more like the odd thoughts I dismiss. The to-do lists, the memories, the desires. You know them, because you have them, too. All I have to do is move my metaphorical leg, and they scatter. This is nothing more than the practice of noticing.
The owls are more observers than partakers in this drama, staying silent in the tall trees on the perimeter of this property. They have different food sources. But they, like my Being, come in when they need to take a rabbit, or a mouse.
But owls don’t eat jays.
In a way, the jays and the owls have a reciprocal relationship. The jays simply show the owls where some of their food lives, just like my thoughts can point to where my soul might want to work next. The jays in this way are the helpful Shivas of my little kingdom. They’re the chaotic, even dark, servants of a greater good. The Lakota Heyoka, the Hindu Aghori. They're Philistine giants just begging for David’s rock. Yet, they’re beautiful, even sacred in their own way.
And who knows; the owls may get a kick out of the jays, in spite of their obnoxious behavior. I know I do.
Meditation time spent, I thank the Directions and move my things back inside, stowing them where they “want” to spend the day. I have a relatively open morning, so I make notes of the vision, recording them in my journal to both embed it in my mind and give me a source to remember it the next time I make an entry. Then, I sit down to write.
And what do I write?
(photo by Dennis Buchner)