I once rescued more than 30 exotic parrots that had been dropped off at a local kennel. I had birds as a kid and have a way with them— a bird whisperer of sorts, or so I fancy myself.
Barry was this bright orange Macaw. He had beautiful wingspan that was easily 3 feet across.
Barry was blind.
His owners had experimented on him, locking him in a totally dark room for more than 10 years. They treated him with their version of love and care, exactly like the other parrots in the experiment, the only difference with Barry, they kept him in total darkness to see if unused eyes eventually die.
As you can imagine, Barry was a mess when I got to him. He had not been held in years— his apprehension of people and fear of even the smallest movement or sound was severe. I used my voice as the only way to connect– A Macaw of Barry’s size could crush my fingers in less than a moment.
Within a few months I had Barry lying on his back in my arms just like a baby. I could do anything with him; he was as fully integrated as any of the “normal” parrots. By the time I placed him with a family, only an experienced handler would recognize his disability. He used sounds and feel to navigate his world and I think love and consistency retrained the fear in him, transforming it into conditional acceptance and trust.
Years later I learned that his site returned. His eye’s finally re-adjusted to the light.
The people who care for him run a sanctuary with indoor and outdoor facilities that mimic his native land and it’s about as close to bird heaven as one can imagine. They tell me that out of all the hundreds of parrots they have Barry is the most joyful, smartest and loving of any they’ve ever encountered.
Considering they live more than 100 years, Barry got a nice do over and the way I see it, he’s just filled with gratitude and appreciation.
Barry taught me a basic reality of life. We must face certain conditions in order to experience others. We can use language like good and bad but the truth is these are simply the conditions that prevail… If Barry hadn’t been blind, he might not have been so joyful about seeing.
In the sacred wisdom teachings of the Pali Canon, the Lokavipatti Sutta describes this basic reality as The Eight Worldly Conditions.
They show up in four opposing pairs….creating context that allows us to really experience life. Without one, I’m not sure how you’d ever feel the other.
Barry helped me understand these conditions are just part of this life. Fighting against this reality manufactures suffering however recognizing, observing and accepting this reality has brought me great ease and joy.
I think it did for Barry too.
I’ve come to understand the pendulum of emotion that exists deep within me. When I’m feeling totally awesome and on fire, hitting it hard, experiencing abundance and gain all around me I can now observe the tipping point and sometimes, if I’m really mindful and aware, watch as my emotions swing and observe them as they enter the middle, steadier space before they inevitably continue on into fear, lack and scarcity.
This awareness, thankfully, continues and as I’m on the darker side of the pendulum… I have the same awareness of moving out of the fear back to the center, into the steadier space and eventually all the way back to the high point.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten thru literally just by holding on and waiting for things to change. I was blind, just like Barry, to this basic universal nature for so long and life has become filled with so much more grace, ease and joy as a result of this knowing.
With diligent, rigorous practice and lots of time on task over time, I’ve become more suspect when I feel “high” or “low”. When something is really awesome, totally exciting and feels spectacular, I’ve learned to pause and access and question how real it really is. When things really suck, when everything looks dark and hopeless, I also pause and access.
Now, I tend to stay centered for longer periods. That’s been a tangible benefit of meditation and the cultivation of a spiritual life.
I still swing, that’s just this life, but I rely upon the center space for my choices and decisions. I try hard now to have the center, the middle path, be the point from which I operate, yielding measurable peace and joy, just like Barry.
“Observing happiness and pain arising in the mind, and remaining open to them without attaching to or rejecting them, enables wisdom to grow in one’s heart, even in the most emotionally charged circumstances. Seeing these eight worldly conditions for what they are, and watching the mind’s reactions to them, gives rise to the liberating insight of the Buddha. And the benefits of this knowledge are not to felt only when in meditative states, but also in the world at large, in the face of all the gain, loss, fame, obscurity, blame, praise, happiness, and pain that life has to offer.”