“Good morning,” the Bokmakierie bird would have said, if I had eyes to see and ears to hear. He was sitting on a thorn tree branch outside the kitchen window, watching me chop carrots.
He saw me first, because I didn’t look up the first or second time that he ‘trilled’, or when he chirruped again, more loudly. Eventually, he played the party trick that make these cheeky, yellow mischiefs a popular garden accessory: he rang like a mobile phone.
And then I looked up from my carrots. “What have you been doing with your life today?” he appeared to have said, since coincidentally, I had been wondering the same thing.
“Not much, but a lot,” I answered. In fact, I couldn’t remember what I’d eaten that morning, since at least a thousand other things had crowded, squashed, into one day between getting up and chopping carrots.
My mother says that there are no such things as coincidences – only meant-to-bes. There also are no problems; only challenges. Because Bokmakierie flew away seconds after our conversation, I forgot about him until the following morning, when my friend Daniela posted an eye-openingly wise comment on her Facebook profile.
While reading it, I felt reasonably certain that Bokmakierie and Dan’s post were one of my mother’s meant-to-bes.
Dan offered us 12 ‘Zen Things’ to remember during a busy day. We see these pop-up philosophies all over social media these days and most miss the memory bank because there are so many that we’ve reached sentimental saturation point.
But what the art of Zen and birds have in common is a simple methodology, really – one that we are fast forgetting.
I put Zen to the test, thanks to Dan and Bokmakierie, just for an hour or two and would you know it? Bird Zen works.
Remember to do one thing at a time – and do it slowly, deliberately, completely. That’s the first step. Chopping carrots, for example, should be about chopping carrots, and not about rushing the job in your head. The rush speeds up your heart rate and makes you anxious; not only will your carrots be a chore, rather than a serving of nutrition, but you may snap at someone later, because your ‘blood is up’, as gran used to say.
Bird Zen also advises that we do less. Can we? Is it at all possible? I tried it and yes. There was a quarter hour scheduled for clearing the right-hand side of the garage last week, but I was tired and it had been a hot and tiring day. So I didn’t do it, as I’d done so much else. And both the garage and my sanity are still there.
“Put space between things”, is the next tip. Meaning time, actual things, visits with people – anything that exchanges energy or takes up space. Putting space in your life gives you room to breathe.
My kids respond best to number six on the list, which is “develop rituals” and “designate time for certain things”. I didn’t know, until I started having eyes to see and ears to hear, that my young son loves, beyond measure, family hugs. Thinking back, I remember now that he’s mentioned family hugs a few times, but we don’t do it often enough. It’s a ritual and so, it must be done – and often.
Our grandparents and older generations understood the last bits of bird zen so innately: devote time to sitting; smile and serve others; make cleaning and cooking become meditation – and live simply.
Do you remember your granny, aunties and elderly neighbours sitting on the stoep of an afternoon, drinking tea and talking, or sometimes not talking, but being silent; punctuating the peace with an occasional “ag, ja” or, “shoo, the wind is up”?
Wise old birds, those.
Beth Cooper Howell
First published in The Herald newspaper