It is my hope that putting this voice out into our world has value, not only for me, but for others, as well. I admit to sometimes entertaining dreams of it going viral, of infecting the world with my vision. But most of the time I am content to be motivated by Gandhi's assertion: whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


October 2008, spring unfurling in the depths of the Jonkershoek Valley:

Bill is an olive thrush, a robust little, no-nonsense bird with a yellow beak that scuffles loudly in the dry leaves around our house looking for worms. He irritates the hell out of me.

Bill wakes up earlier than us. I'm not sure if its a vindictive streak in him, or if the early morning light at this time of year just happens to catch our bedroom window in exactly the right way. But every morning, for the past few months, I have been reluctantly wrenched from drowsiness by a loud, insistent, "Rat...tat...tat...tat...tat" against the window. He continues until I stumble up and shoo him away. Then he goes on to his breakfast of worms in the dry leaves, and I start my day irritated, again. Sometimes I think that he must be trying to tell me something - some important message for me from the animal world - but mostly he just pisses me off.

He started his campaign against me with the car mirrors. He would spend long hours of each day pecking at the side view mirrors of our cars, parked on the gravel road in front of our house. And every day he would add to the matching, crusty, purple and white streaks of digested wild olive berries that decorated the sides of each car. I could hear him pecking from inside the house.

Irritation and resentment is never a good foundation for lasting friendship. I would run down the front path waving my arms and shouting, upon which he would simply fly up into the plane tree, perch on a high branch amongst the spring leaves, and look down on me with his head cocked. As soon as I returned through the front door, the "Rat...tat...tat...tat...tat" would begin again. Eventually I resorted to taping plastic shopping bags over the side view mirrors. Clever, I thought. But it was around then that he started on our bedroom window.

If anything about our dysfunctional relationship is to change, it seems that the onus is on me to make a shift. Can I continue to simply hope he will bugger off, continue to be irritated and resentful of the mess that he makes, and of what appears to me to be his stupidity? I think not. So now sometimes, instead of chasing him away, I watch him. When I do he pauses, alert, watchful, seeming to consider his next action carefully, and then he pecks again, rapidly "Rat...tat...tat...tat...tat". Or sometimes when I watch him, although I keep still, he flies away.

It was Sandra who named him Bill. As to his message to me, she thinks it is obvious. He is quite clearly saying, ‘Wake up!’

My life at the moment is filled with a nagging sense of frustration and discontentment. I remember a phrase that I read somewhere: How we live each day, is how we live our lives. It focuses me on my everyday experience, in contrast to the aspirations I might have for my life, and makes me feel acutely the lack in that. Many of my days I end, returning home from work, feeling frustrated, like I haven’t achieved anything worthwhile. And, on top of that, I haven’t even enjoyed them.

The frustration has to do with a sense of meaning. I am always seeking meaning. Or is it that the voice within me, the life-sabotaging voice of the ego, is always whining on about meaning?

"Surely you could be doing something better?" it taunts, "Something that has more value and more meaning?"

This is my struggle and the source of that nagging discomfort. It is the source of the sometimes intensely felt sense of frustration about what I am doing with my life, with me.

The trouble of course is that this voice is clever and persuasive and I believe it. It cuts straight to the part of me that falls for it taunts every time. And it doesn’t help me to hang on to an intellectually created belief that meaning is not sought, but created, or even that meaning itself is meaningless, of little consequence, like an ever retreating summit that is just the top of ones own horizon and has one hoping but constantly disappointed.

One way I strive for meaning is by seeking understanding, understanding of me, of life, of everything. And that desire to understand is often what drives me. But an insight arises as I write this alone in my bed, in our quiet, still home of Tuesday nights, which Sandra always spends away in Cape Town. It is uttered by a softer, gentler voice than the one that nags about meaning: Strive less to understand yourself, and more to simply be yourself.

I think of an old school friend, who I saw recently after many years, and of another close friend too. Both seem to possess such an easy, relaxed contentment of being and openness to what is. And I wonder how they do it. I wonder why I can’t.

My thoughts turn to getting older, another thing of which I am aware right now. And I think with concern about what my life might amount to. Echoes of the U2 lyrics: And I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, play through my mind. I have a strong sense that I still haven’t achieved contentment and happiness and fulfilment and they seem such elusive things to chase after. And of course I know that they cannot be found when you chase them, and yet still I chase them.

You’ve got to question just how meaningful and satisfying it can be - pecking away, "Rat...tat...tat...tat...tat" at your own reflection in the glass, day after day after day, without ever giving up or realizing the illusion. I am sure you get a sore beak and a headache. Talk about hitting your head up against a wall. The stupidity of it justifies my irritation, justifies my running out shouting with waving arms, justifies my resentment at this stupid bird. But one day, when I am quietly watching him, the phrase: striving for the illusory self, comes to mind.

The imagery brings some insight. My striving is after an illusion when it could instead be used constructively. Yes I should strive, but I should strive to live my values actively, honouring that part of me that has this searching within. And stop looking for something else. See what is there. Stop looking and see.

And what emerges too is this. I question whether this striving and questioning, this angst and frustration, this worry of what my life is amounting to, is merely all about my insecurities, of being valued, of feeling undervalued. Is this then not the core of the problem: How much do I value myself? I know I value some parts of me, but do I value all?

And so the next day I decide to do this. At the end of each day I will write down the answer to this question: What did I do well today? On the first day, after a fairly standard, frustrating day I list three things. I got up early and meditated in the dark while the rest of the house still slept. I managed to be patient and loving and present with the kids, especially in the evening (Sandra is away for the week). I eventually took all our amounted recycling for collection at school.

But the next day I struggled to think of anything I had done well, and the same on the next and then I probably forgot about it, and so the last entry I made on this was those three points: I got up early and meditated in the dark. I managed to be patient and loving and present with the kids. I took all our recycling for collection.

Two weeks later, I am awoken from the drowsiness before real sleep by a sudden sharp and insistent insight. "Rat...tat...tat...tat...tat" on the glass of my consciousness. I get up, turn on the light and write it into my book as the next entry.

This is what I write:

All my problems arise from wanting things to be other than what they are. And this is the consequence: by wanting things to be other, we keep them the same. It is only by accepting them as they are, that we enable them to shift.

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