Everybody on earth longs for some great satisfaction from exercising the gift or talent they have. But most of us don’t have gift or talent sufficient to bring about such great satisfactions. There is a great disparity usually, between the lofty ideals you uphold in private and the scanty skills you find at your disposal. I can certainly feel this colossal disparity constantly staring right back at me, like a merciless abyss bottomless to no end. Inevitably, it leads to a realization – the small and insignificant satisfactions I get in everyday life, are about all the satisfactions I can get in this life.
The trivial pleasures are scattered over the commonplaces – drawing my imaginary cat is one of them; munching my favorite animal cracker can be another crumb of comfort; tending the flowers on my window sill instills in me a certain joy as well; and basking in the warm sun of a cool season when the weather allows it, surely it gives rise to a sense of bliss … Offhand it is not easy to recall all the itty-bitty delights strewn over a mundane life, but one thing impossible to miss, is watching the mating dance of a male bird – it is the best part about watching a bird documentary for me.
That fervent little creature in his splendid attire, hoists his crest, puff up his chest, elongates his tail plumage. He sways a few steps left and then right, he jerks back and forth, he circles and then twirls … He dances to a love song in his head. He is as valiant as a bullfighter, as flamboyant as Michael Flatley in the Riverdance.
To perform the best dance of his lifetime, it takes arduous work just to set up the stage. Sometimes he has to meticulously polish up the scratchy makeshift of a platform in the messy woods. Or he has to spend ages painstakingly weaving the elaborate structure of a magnificent nest, employing even visual illusions when necessary. And he may go as far as teaming with his rivals to perform group dance, just so to increase the likelihood of attracting an audience. Not to mention the hours and hours of rehearsal he has to carry out every day, while awaiting the slight chance for a female to drop in and show interest.
The female bird, who apparently holds all the cards in the avian world, puts on a rather practical attitude. She turns her back on him, proceeds with her own business, occasionally darts a shrewd look at him. Or she cranes her neck to scrutinize his behaviors, constantly shifting her perches so as to investigate from all angles. As if in her little brain, she’s calculating, how many extravagant eyespots there are on his feathers, how many glittering objects he has gathered in his bower, how many good genes he could pass on to her offspring …
I want to say to her, for heaven’s sake, stop the calculation, just watch the bird dance, be amazed by the pure beauty and marvelous creativity!
But I suspect birds are unlike human, they don’t use that much of their brain, they just follow their natural calling. The only one who thinks too much is me. I even project my own assumption and conception onto that unsuspecting little creature, trying to speculate and judge what is going on in the bird brain.
Why can’t I just watch the bird dance, be amazed by the beauty and creativity in it?
In a Zen koan, a 50-year-old disciple asks his teacher, “I’ve been studying this subject of enlightenment all my life, but one thing I just don’t understand – it says even grass and trees will become enlightened. To me it seems incomprehensive.” The master replies, “Of what use is it to ponder how grass and trees become enlightened? Do you ever attend to your own enlightenment?”
The great satisfaction in life will never be found in all the mental toils, I suspect. The natural calling for me is to be a watcher, I suppose. So I may just watch the bird dance.