Lessons from the Nest

As I inspected my backyard garden on a late March afternoon, a mallard duck unexpectedly bolted from underneath a rosebush and landed in the adjacent bay.  Quacking angrily, her message was clear. Curious, I peeked under the bush.  To my utter delight, I discovered a nest with five large eggs! I paused just long enough to snap a picture; momma duck returned right after I left.  In several weeks (hopefully), our yard would be graced with five fluffy yellow ducklings! But the thrill was soon gone.  Gazing at the picture of the nest, I noticed new shoots beginning to poke out of stems. How would momma duck contend with thorny branches that would surely grow too close for comfort?  And how would tiny hatchlings fare under the tangle of sharp objects pointed their way? As I sat with the picture of the nest, I noticed how quickly the reactive tendency of “worrying mind” kicked in. Joy to worry, worry to the impulse to “fix,” control, and second-guess.  Compassion? Yes.  Distrust of the natural world? Yes, that too. Should I cut back the branches?  Feed the mother? Leave the nest alone?  From the wide angled lens of mindfulness, I watched the kaleidoscope of thoughts, impulses and emotions change. It occurs to me that the ducklings’ intro to life reflects our own.  We exit the warmth and relative safety of our softly lined “nests,” to find ourselves thrust into a life that includes pain and peril, disappointment and loss.  Between prickly thorns we do our best to thrive, or to at least get by.  Let’s face it … life isn’t easy, even in the best of circumstances. Long ago, Buddha had the profound realization that suffering arises from our reaction to what life hands us, rather than the circumstances themselves. We cling to what we have, like and want despite inevitable change, and make continual efforts to push away unpleasant, unwanted experience. But, due to the unsatisfactory nature of life’s conditions, our efforts are doomed to failure as we strive to reach for pleasure and brace against pain. Fortunately though, through mindfulness practice we can transform our relationship to the ups and downs of life.

 “Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” ―James Baraz

Mindfulness enables us go with the flow rather than struggle against the tide. And it shines light on our habitual patterns of reactivity. This can make all the difference in our quality of life and sense of wellbeing. The day after discovering the nest, I returned to the rosebush with pruning shears in hand, still wondering if I should quickly cut back just a few branches. Mom flew off the nest as expected but, to my surprise, only three eggs remained, with a broken shell scattered nearby.  No telling what happened to the fifth.  I was glad that I hadn’t cut back the branches or fed the mom on the previous day … I would have blamed myself for allowing the predator greater access. We can never be completely sure of what is next, but we can remember the lessons gained from the nest…
  • Life can be challenging for all species – let’s treat each other with kindness.
  • Pausing to savor and appreciate moments of awe and delight that will soon vanish can enrich our lives.
  • Expectations (no more five ducklings), can result in disappointment. Rather, we can open to the unknowability of the future.
  • Sometimes it is best to let be, rather than take charge, especially when we may not know best.
  • Living life from the space of mindful awareness can prevent us from becoming too caught up in our often self manufactured dramas. And …
Mindfulness changes everything.  It really does.