The great spiritual teacher Krishnamurti once said, “When you teach a child that a bird is named ‘bird,’ the child will never see the bird again.” What they’ll see is the word “bird.” That’s what they’ll see and feel, and when they look up in the sky and see that strange, winged being take flight, they’ll forget that what is actually there is a great mystery. They’ll forget that they really don’t know what it is. They’ll forget that the thing flying through the sky is the beyond all words, that it’s an expression of the immensity of life. It’s actually an extraordinary and wondrous thing that flies through the sky. But as soon as we name it, we think we know what it is. We see “bird,” and we almost discount it. A “bird,” “cat,” “dog,” “human,” “cup,” “chair,” “house,” “forest”–all of these things have been given names, and all of these things lose some of their natural aliveness once we name them.
Photo courtesy of Paul Hueber (Thanks Paul!)
We’re not meant to survive it. We’re meant to be ravaged by it
until it wears us away like stone ground to sand.
And not just by heartache and loss, but by beauty too.
By all that’s pure and true in the world,
and by everything we love and hope and dream.
If we’re doing it right, we’re meant to feel it all viscerally,
unreasoning and aching as we take it all in.
Last night, an owl
in the blue dark
an indeterminate number
of carefully shaped sounds into
the world, in which,
a quarter of a mile away, I happened
to be standing.
I couldn’t tell
which one it was –
the barred or the great-horned
ship of the air –
it was that distant. But, anyway,
aren’t there moments
that are better than knowing something,
and sweeter? Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness. I suppose
if this were someone else’s story
they would have insisted on knowing
whatever is knowable – would have hurried
over the fields
to name it – the owl, I mean.
But it’s mine, this poem of the night,
and I just stood there, listening and holding out
my hands to the soft glitter
falling through the air. I love this world,
but not for its answers.
And I wish good luck to the owl,
whatever its name –
and I wish great welcome to the snow,
whatever its severe and comfortless
and beautiful meaning.
Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?