It is a sunny Wednesday afternoon. The air is still, the clouds are few, the water is placid. I am sitting on a blanket on the green grass, overlooking a lake in the middle of Scottsdale.
I bring my girls here a few times a month to feed the ducks. It is one of our favorite spots in town.
I knew when I woke up this morning, I wanted to be outside with the birds and the water. I grabbed some stale bagels on the way out of the door this morning, and made a date with myself and the ducks for lunchtime. I walked to my favorite spot right by a tree my girls hug every time they come here. I kicked off my shoes, sat down, undressed my computer from its sleeve, and began to unwrap the bagels.
I noticed as I was walking up to my spot, that the ducks, pigeons and geese were moving slower than usual. They were quiet. Normally, they surround us, pecking at our toes, ravenous and aggressive. They fight for the bread. There is the group that is trampled and forgotten as the virile group lunge and bully their way to the morsels of week old leaven. A little voice in my head, implanted by my parents when I was a young girl, spoke, “Be aware of your surroundings, Rebecca. Take a look around, take it in. What’s new? What’s old? What are the smells? What are the sights? What does it feel like today?” What’s new? A sign with big bold red letters, “Please do not feed the geese and the ducks.”
The birds were becoming too aggressive. They were beginning to compete. The last time I was here, one duck stabbed another duck with his beak and attempted to dismember his wing. His companion quacked in pain as he attacked his feathers over and over. They were no longer cooperating. They were no longer harmonious. They became greedy, they wanted what they did not have. They ignored the grass, which was enough. They ignored the minos beneath the surface of the water, who would satiate their bellies. They began to suffer, and we humans are the reason. They were given things they did not need and convinced themselves they did. These self sufficient animals began to want. A little bread was no longer enough, they needed it all.
The ducks and the stale bread are no different than our unsatisfied desires for material food. There is no nutritional value of the things we yearn for.
We just want them because they are being dangled in front of us. We trick ourselves into thinking that if we are not pecking for something new like everyone else, we are not fulfilling ourselves, and we suffer gravely.
What’s new today? Peace. The birds are no longer fighting. They are calm. There are geese grazing the grass side by side. Ducks fishing in the water. Some pigeons are basking in the sun, cooing and flirting with one another.
As I sit here, I reflect on my recent travels to India. I traveled to India with a similar intention as I have when I come to feed the ducks. I come here to enjoy my surroundings and learn from the environment, but I also am drawn to giving, to nourishing the ducks and offer them an easy way to “feed their hunger.” All I was doing was destroying everything that is beautiful about nature itself. I believe the universe gives us everything we need, sometimes we must work more diligently to find it, but it is there. Somewhere along the way, this belief became clouded by living in a society that honors indulgence and quantity.
When I arrived in India, I had a swift awakening to the serenity in simplicity, in the lack of excess. Life appeared uncomplicated, easily navigated and understood. Everywhere I traveled in India from north to south, I made one critical observation. I never saw anyone standing alone. Every person I saw was accompanied by one or more companions, sometimes the companions came in the form of animals. They were supported, they were united. Outside of their homes made of cloth, wood, mortar and cow dung, dirt as their flooring, candle light as electricity, and fire as their microwaves, these beautifully raw human beings from age one day to one hundred years old, sat together smiling, laughing, playing cards, waving at passers-by.
They are the ducks and geese as they are meant to be, at the root, content with what is, with their resources of grass and fish, with just being.
The animal kingdom function and are successfully surviving because they work together. If we hover “a stale bagel” above a group of animals or people they will stop working together, they will turn against one another.
I saw an example of this unwarranted appetite, the first day we were in Mumbai. We were waiting for a taxi, when a little boy and girl approached us for money. Gesturing by rubbing their fingers together and drawing their little hands to their chapped lips. They were smiling and dancing around us and appeared to be enjoying our presence as we enjoyed theirs. One of the women in our group handed the boy ten rupees. I saw the shift immediately. They became hungry for more. Ten rupees was not enough. It was more than they had before, but now they were starved for more. They began to tug at our arms and knock on the windows as we squeezed into our taxi. Our interaction went from light and playful to contentious with the sight of money, just as the ducks began to salivate with greed from the shower of carbohydrates. The children we encountered may have been suffering on a physical level, hunger and thirst, but they were not suffering from desire of material. The moment that paper bill coated the little boys fingers, he became voracious for everything he did not have.
Here I sit on my blanket, and another realization that my need to nourish and feed these ducks and geese is derived only from my insatiable want.
They are already nourished, they are self sustaining, and the moment I begin to stuff them with unnecessary food, they begin to suffer from the desire of more. If I went to India with microwaves, toilets, air conditioning units, and wads of cash I would have been the one to inflict them with this suffering desire and ultimately I would destroy their self reliant and happy existence.
Sometimes compassion comes dressed as inaction as action. The inaction of being, of honoring what is, as the way it is supposed to be. Right now, I exist amongst the birds and the trees as a guest in their home, and I am aware of how much I have buried my own existence in mounds of stale bread. I look at the water and the orchestrated dance as the ducks float and fish on the lake.
It reminds me of the streets in India. There are no real traffic laws or lights, yet somehow, someway the ox carts, motorbikes, trucks, buses, camels and people weave their way with a chaotic grace through the roads of India. How? They watch out for each other. They cooperate. They work together, because that is all they know. They are untainted by the grime of suffering desire as we know it.
As I finished writing this piece, two blue herons flew overhead and landed across the water. I looked up the symbolism of this magnificent blue goddess. The heron is a “symbol of going with the flow, and working with the elements of Mother Nature, rather than struggling against her.” Now, the girls and I will come to our favorite spot to sit and observe these creatures, and allow Mother Nature to provide. Because what Mother Nature provides, turns out not only to be what we need, but what our true nature wants.
Writer’s note: My microwave has been a faithful friend for the last eight years. I returned home after my date with the ducks, to find my microwave deceased. Lesson learned. I will stop feeding myself the stale bread too. I should put a sign on it, “Please do not feed the humans. They need to learn how to cook for themselves.”