POSTCARD #29 Delhi: Large birds of prey slowly circling above; they make a sound like the mewing of cats. I’m on the roof terrace, watching them. They’ve seen something and I’m curious to see if I’ll witness the dramatic plunge to Earth to catch the prey. Reminds me of a time I was in Pondicherry, South India, walking through a quiet district in the French-speaking Tamil part of town. Not much going on, turn a corner and on the other side of the path there’s this mother hen fussing around agitatedly with her brood of little chicks: chee-eep, cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep. And the hen is making loud cluck-cluck, cluck-cluck noises, strutting around, strangely fast, unusual body movements; it was like a dance – didn’t look right somehow. The mother hen was dashing about and jumping backwards and forewards and the little chicks were falling over themselves trying to keep up with her. Wow, what is going on here? I stopped to watch.
Then suddenly there was this huge SWOOP down from above. A movement of the air and a large bird of prey with outstretched talons ‘falling’ from sky to earth in a great wide arc; at its widest point, so near to the ground, going at a tremendous speed. I saw it further down the road sailing back upwards in the momentum of its fall, and up in this large curve then winging it’s way back into the higher altitudes. Amazing… an almost silent whoosh of feathers and outstretched talons just in front of me. But it missed the target! It didn’t get what it was after, the mother hen had saved the chicks with her strange dance. And it’s possible that my being there, having just turned around the corner at exactly the right instant, had caused the bird of prey to misjudge the distance to its target; the kamma of the moment – a fortunate turn of events for these cute little chicks. Mother hen and her happy brood went on with their day: cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep… story with happy ending.
It really cheered me up – the feeling that everything is right in the world! It helped me a lot too with a problem I was having with an irate person in the office who’d gotten the idea that I was at fault concerning something I’ll not go into right now. Not easy but it only lasted a short time. She was wrong, and I was completely sure about that but there was no hope of convincing her; so it was just a case of dodging the angry remarks fired at me like heat-seeking missiles. The strange thing about this was, the missiles were not hitting the intended target. It was intense but I was not emotionally harmed. I was able to see what was going on and be one step removed – not unaffected by it of course – but the fierce eyes, the anger, the voice did not cause injury: the missile misses its aim and all that’s felt is the wind of it as it goes by.
So I was feeling a bit like the little chicks who escaped the sharp talons of the Great Bird of Prey. My mind was transparent, a large empty space; nothing there – no target. Just this freshness, clear comprehension, and seeing with alertness, yet detached from it, knowing it’s Mind that’s the real threat. It’s understood in a moment and after that the system does it by itself; it’s not a ‘mine field’, it’s a mind field. When I think of it now and see these birds of prey suspended in the air, they’re harmless. When I’m not thinking about the threat, it’s not there. The birds hold my attention, their patient observing …
‘Mindfulness is what keeps the perspective of appropriate attention in mind. Modern psychological research has shown that attention comes in discrete moments. You can be attentive to something for only a very short period of time and then you have to remind yourself, moment after moment, to return to it if you want to keep on being attentive. In other words, continuous attention—the type that can observe things over time—has to be stitched together from short intervals. This is what mindfulness is for. It keeps the object of your attention and the purpose of your attention in mind.’ [Thanissaro Bhikkhu, ‘Mindfulness Defined‘]