Switzerland, August: Awake at 4:00 AM this morning, came through and switched on the kitchen light: neon tube fluorescent, flicker-flicker flick. Light everywhere, through the windows illuminating the outdoor furniture on the balcony of this 7th floor apartment and the pigeons sleeping there wake up: croo-croo, croo-croo! Had to switch off the light again and they were quiet as soon as I did that. Now I’m sitting in the darkness, held back in my domestic activities by the wildlife on the balcony. What to do now? It takes me a while to get round to noticing this silence the pigeons are in. I get my meditation cushion and place it on the sofa with other cushions to stop it from sinking into the softness and get up on that, a little unsteady but balanced at this slightly higher elevation so I’m able to see the round shapes of the sleeping birds through the window. I’m in their quiet space, we share the peace of this Sunday morning – so silent here, high above street level. There’s a presence around these sleeping birds; there’s an immediate focus on metta loving-kindness to all beings:
‘All people, all animals, all creatures, all those in existence, near and far, known to us and unknown to us. All beings on the earth, in the air, in the water. Those being born, those dying. May all beings everywhere live in safety, be happy, be healthy, live with ease…’
Attention wanders and the mind enters into the story of it all: the bird out on the balcony, nesting in the Christmas tree bucket then there were two eggs, they hatched out and there were two babies and Ajahn V even did a little blessing for them when he came to visit [Link to: Birds on the Balcony1 and Birds on the Balcony2]. The young birds became adults and now we have a small family group inhabiting the balcony. Two adults and two young birds and there’s another one – the mysterious ‘other’ … the alpha male has taken a second wife? I’m saying this because there’s often some upset out there; some extended flapping of wings in the evening as they get their places in the hierarchy settled for the night – it’s like who gets to perch next to whom. I can’t imagine… return to mindfulness mode:
‘Let them not do the slightest thing that the wise would later reprove. Wishing: in gladness and in safety, may all beings be at ease. Whatever living beings there may be; whether they are weak or strong, omitting none, the great or the mighty, medium, short or small, the seen and the unseen, those living near and far away, those born and to-be-born — may all beings be at ease.’
Eyes open slightly in the half-darkness. I’m perched on my high cushion like one of the birds. Morning light is coming up. I see them more clearly now. They’re sitting on different parts of the old artist’s easel that I left out there because it’s too big to have inside the apartment. It looks strangely like a work of art, some kind of out-of-context aesthetic event, but can’t think what that might be…. Picasso did some paintings of pigeons and doves that had moved into his studio in the South of France. I look at these pictures and I just know what that must have been like.
One bird begins to waken up, wing stretch, flutter, flap. They’re here with us, sharing the same worldview. Without us, the birds wouldn’t be on this balcony – they’d be on someone else’s balcony, okay, but the whole thing is about inter-dependency. We all need each other. I am one part in the vast body of life, distinct yet intimately bound up with all living beings. Eyes close again, return to meditation mode:
‘… so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings; radiating kindness over the entire world: spreading upwards to the skies, and downwards to the depths; outwards and unbounded, freed from hatred and ill-will. Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down free from drowsiness, one should sustain this recollection.’
After a while, in the light of early morning, I notice an odd silence in the bird group out there; no wing-flap. Get up and go over to see. They’re poised on the balcony handrail; all looking out, little necks stretched out and eyes focused on the space outside; the great swimming-pool of sky. Still no movement. Then simultaneously they burst into flight, and gone. As one unit they drop over the balcony and down. A moment later I see them swoop and swirl in a great arc in the sky then on eye level with this 7th floor and in a direct line away from me, they vanish in the distance.
[Excerpts from: Karaniya Metta Sutta also excerpts from loving-kindness meditation by Jack Kornfield, Susan Salzberg]