Switzerland, September: It’s a really windy day up here on the 7th floor. The birds on the balcony [Link to: Birds on the Balcony 3], huddled and sheltering on perches made from bamboo canes bound with string and held with duct tape. These pigeons are getting tugged at by the wind, pushed from side to side but claws are anchored firmly to the perch. This strange high wind comes at you from any direction, very gusty, buffets the birds around because of feathers designed to catch the slightest up-draught of air and a weightless skeletal structure. It’s a problem sitting on the perch on a day like this, but they do have these extremely long toenails to hold on with. The wind can’t snatch them away.
This is how it is. If you’re a pigeon, a life form evolved from the causes and conditions of air and wind currents, there’s the danger of getting whisked away in the wind at any moment. Necessary to quickly find shelter and, for young birds, sometimes it does go wrong. Yesterday I was downtown waiting at the bus stop; it was windy like this and suddenly a bird drops straight down from above and soft-lands on the street, feathers sticking out at all angles showing white undersides. People waiting at the bus stop go: wooooo! in unison. It was a young pigeon. The bird corrects itself and walks around in circles, dazed, a car swerves to avoid it. The young bird walks in a zigzag fashion across the road jumps up on the pavement; wide-eyed with its sense of danger and takes refuge in a doorway behind the bus stop.
The dukkha of a windy day. It’s the mistral coming from the Mediterranean and North Africa; sudden gusts of wind come at you in a kind of anarchy of directions, very intense for a day or two then it’s gone. The pigeons are so actively engaged with the mechanism of flight, it’s as if the movements of their wings and the movement of the air are one and the same thing. I see them caught in hectic flight movement; a stationary moment in the air, suspended in time and space, then the audible flap of wingtip and fluttering away – adjusting wing positions in response to complex changes in wind direction.
Each air current has a quality that results in the corresponding wing tilt and flip, extend and hold. If you’re a bird, ground level is not the reference point; ‘up’ is not necessarily up and neither is down. Bird flight is an expression of the air movement itself, sudden and unpredictable; birds in flight and the sky – the space where the flying takes place; it’s about non-duality: ‘self and other, subject and object, organism and environment are the poles of a single process1‘ The flying and the air are not different, there’s no separation, no division between them.
‘… an ever-present no-boundary awareness wherein the subject and the object, the seer and the seen, the experiencer and the experienced form a single continuum.2‘
A wind like this is energy to the birds; it’s a dance. All their skills and everything they are is in readiness, alert. They have the ability to do all of it. Flying and the wind are in unison. But they need to find a place to shelter and these birds come into the balcony space here, grab on to a perch, clamp down on the landing gear, and claws lock into place. Held like this until the wind has gone. Eyes glaze over; they’re in a state of partial sleep, head sunk into the body, feathers fluffed out. They’re just not concerned at all about the wind buffeting them around – or me, looking at them through the glass, or what goes on inside this terrestrial place, 7 floors up from ground level. It could be anywhere, just a place, like the branch of a tree, elevated as it is, to be a convenient stopover for birds of the air.
‘I am infinite like space, and the natural world is like a jar/ I am like the ocean, and the multiplicity of objects is comparable to a wave/ I am like the mother of pearl, and the imagined world is like the silver/ Alternatively, I am in all beings, and all beings are in me. To know this is knowledge, and then there is neither renunciation, acceptance, or cessation of it.’ [Ashtavakra Gita 6.1 – 6.4]
[Image source: detail from: pigeon_flock_large_0410094946. I am grateful for the use of this image]
1Alan Watts, The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
2The Essential Ken Wilbur, page 21: The Real Self