Set amongst the potted plants in the back patio behind our cottage in Laguna Beach, we have one of those large silver balls placed on a concrete pedestal. It reflects the sky and the plants around it, forming a focal point for the eye and adding a gleam of light amongst the greenery. In the past couple of days, we have noticed a small bird--I'm not good on the species, but it's sparrow-size, with dark wings and a grayish chest--fluttering around it. Attracted, perhaps, by the reflective quality of the surface, it has become obsessed with the attempt to scale the rounded walls and settle on the top. But the curve of the summit makes it impossible for the little creature to find its balance, and no sooner does it reach the top than it slides off down the sides, tumbling down inelegantly into the plants below--and then immediately repeating the attempt.
You can't help laughing, watching this little winged clown attempting what must seem the impossible with such admirable persistence. It will go on for ten, twenty minutes at a stretch before giving up--and return a short time later to repeat the performance. Watching my own amusement, I note that I laugh at both the insistent flutter up the sides of the ball, and the slide down from the top. I'm rooting for him, too; and he's learning! This morning, he managed just a moment of rest at the top the ball--no, half a moment, before sliding down again. Then, yes, a full moment, balanced there in triumphant stillness, and I could feel my heart leap up with sympathetic ecstasy.
We wonder what it is that drives him into this obsession. Ellie theorizes that he thinks it's water, and he needs a drink. I think that he's just playing, having fun. But I watch him and can't help but reflect on how much this is like the experience of my life, and pretty much the life of everyone I know. We just keep trying with crazy energy to find that point of balance--peacefulness, serenity...--where everything is just right; and moments later find ourselves fluttering down that same slope again. And then I think, how much this is also like the work of meditation, the constant, repeated attempts to bring the mind to stillness; and how repeatedly the mind slips from its precarious perch and flutters off again.
So I have this little bird to thank, not only for the entertainment but also for the teaching. It's a peculiarly charming way to learn...