Lesson is the noun; learn is the verb. All the lessons are present, we just need to figure out what to do with them.
Lesson One: The Great Blue Heron
My neighborhood has crows, gulls, and pigeons aplenty, along with flickers, starlings, sparrows, robins, woodpeckers, and Steller’s jays. I barely notice them. I save my full attention for redwing blackbirds, bald eagles and other raptors, and great blue herons. Those birds are heralds for me, harbingers, messengers carrying the simple message: Pay attention.
One heron I know from walking across the University of Washington campus, where I’m on a seasonal special assignment this week. Seeing herons in flight makes me wonder why it took so long for paleontologists to decide that dinosaurs were birds. (Seeing a heron standing by the side of the water conjures up no such certainty.) The angular breastbone, the enormous wingspan, the long beak: these ancient and powerful giants could fit in over a scene from Walking with Dinosaurs, no problem.
I figured out where my heron friend lands, if not lives, and I make a point of seeking the oval of its body perched impossibly at the tip of a tall waving branch. Its presence grounds me and reminds me not to overcomplicate my thoughts. Does it worry about where it will sleep, or getting enough fish to eat, or the next mating cycle? How often does it check its bank balance? How much time does it waste and then grieve the waste of? Does it criticize itself, wishing for a different present so it can have a different future that will be so much better than its past?
Lesson Two: The Diving Board
Jo and I talk once a week, and our conversations are so engaging and interesting that we’re exploring ways to bring others in. A course in self-kindness, preparation, and mindfulness is on our minds and developing into a regular topic. It sounds like such a good idea. In the world of online entrepreneurship, where online courses generate tons and tons of revenue and turn into “evergreen” products that make your money for you while you sleep, that seems like the thing to do.
And yet. I love the idea of diving into action, yet right now, I’m not. I’m standing on the edge of the diving board, measuring its dimensions and the distance down, trying to remember all the different cues that will keep me from hitting the surface painfully, worried sick about the line behind me and the spectators. The body in flight, the brave entry into deep water, the achievement of gravity and physics — none of these things are on my mind.
Beyond that, to continue to stretch the metaphor, I don’t even LIKE diving. If I do it right, I get sinus headaches; if I do it wrong, a belly slap. I do love to swim, though.
Lesson Three: Germination
You can put a seed in the dirt, but you can’t make it drink. You can’t decide where it pops up, or how many more seeds it produces, or when.
Germination requires nothing of the seed other than fulfilling its seed destiny. “Plant a radish, get a radish, maybe you’ll get two,” sing the fathers in the musical The Fantasticks. The planter can only enhance the conditions for growth, seeking to create fruitful circumstances for growth and accept what comes up.
I said the thing about creating fruitful circumstances to Jo, though I was talking at the time about creating the circumstances for encountering my heron friend, readying myself to run into it and accepting its appearance. “Sounds like a manifesto for our work,” she said. Waiting for the seed to arise is an act of patience and self-kindness and mindfulness.
Produce, Produce, Produce
So what is the ultimate lesson here? I feel a force from within to conclude mistressfully with a grand gesture and a grace note so I can give you, the reader, a sense of completion and movement and deeper knowledge and and and… But I can’t control what you learn. I can wait and watch, I can dive or climb down the ladder, I can dump a load of manure on the ground.
I can love myself the way I love you for listening: without expectation
Sure, I have no expectations, but if you want to know more about this wonderful Jo person, find her here. And if you’re interested in learning what Jo and I have to teach at the point when our little sprouts emerge above the soil, get on this mailing list.
And please, let me know what you think of my thoughts. I think them whether or not anyone responds, but I like knowing what you hear.