Tuesday, January 7, 2014

1/8/14—Walking Your Talk

I wanted to post an original post today, but I got a call from my brother and we talked for a very long time. So here's a post from 1/22/12 and I'll get to the one I wanted to write tomorrow or the next day. :)

A while back, one of my artist friends, Joanna Powell Colbert, wrote something that forever changed the way I looked at my backyard.  

She urged her readers to notice the other animal families that live alongside ours on our properties. And not just to notice them, but to dial into them the way we do our human neighbors—recognizing their patterns and quirks.

Certainly I was aware of much of what lived in my backyard before. There are the birds that live in the honeysuckle tangle. The rabbits that nest under the shed. The mice that live beneath my deck and occasionally invade my house. Then there are the passers by—the mourning doves, the cardinal, the bluejay, the possums, the owl and Harvey, the neighbor's cat who likes to torment my dogs.

I knew all this, but had never seen it as a community before. Nor did I recognize my role as the steward of this community. For example, I take precautions so my dogs can't get at the bunnies under the shed. If I see Harvey in our yard, I warn him before I release the hounds. And, essentially, I don't do anything to discourage these families from thriving on my property (though when the mice enter the house, all bets are off.)

So it was in this mind last year when I really took a good look at the squirrels that raise their young in my tree. It started out with birds nesting in this one hollowed out limb. But about eight or nine years ago I saw the birds being unceremoniously evicted by the squirrels. Since then I've watched generations of baby squirrels peek their heads out that hollow hole looking for their mama. Then, when they get big enough, everyone moves elsewhere, vacating the hole until the following spring.

Anyway, all that changed when, late last summer, a storm brought down that hollow limb. The squirrels were long gone, so nobody got injured. But their home was totaled. I kept the hollow part and leaned it up against my tree, intending to fill it with soil this spring and make it into a planter or other yard feature.

Well, we've had a warm winter so far. And I think someone might have gotten pregnant early, because I've been seeing a squirrel poking around my planter-in-waiting a lot lately. It's like s/he's assessing its worthiness for another scurry of squirrels expected in the spring. Every time I see him sizing it up, I want to warn him not to risk it. But I don't speak squirrel. All I know is one push and my dogs will have those babies. It's no longer fit for squirrels.

In our spiritual lives, we will all come across a challenge like this—when something that has served us for quite some time now no longer suits us. It might come upon us suddenly like it did for the evicted birds. Or it might take time and repeated reminders to realize, like with the squirrels.

As we move forward on our paths, we need to periodically check to see if the way we're living is in integrity with our beliefs. A vegetarian may realize they cannot, in all good conscience, continue to wear leather goods, for example. A yogi might realize the hypocrisy of their cigarette or alcohol habit. Or a spiritual seeker may find that holding grudges brings nothing but pain for them anymore. In short, the spiritual home we've built can no longer accommodate certain ways of being.

As you walk through the coming weeks, think about the squirrel and the choice he needs to make in order to do what's best for himself and his family. Consider whether the ways you're acting and being continue to honor the spiritual beliefs you've built. Observe your actions and interactions and ask yourself questions:
·      Are you approaching conflicts from a place of compassion and understanding?
·      Do you follow the advice you give to others?
·      Can you see where the judgment you placed on someone else might also be true    
        about you?
·      While you may not be saying unkind things, do you find yourself thinking them?
·      Are you really listening when people speak or are you thinking of all the stuff you 
        have to do later on?
·      Would Jesus/Buddha/God be proud of the way you handled that last interaction?

The questions you ask yourself may be different based upon your beliefs and where you are along your path. But you owe it to yourself to be as honest and as impartial in your self-assessment as possible. To make progress on our spiritual paths, it becomes necessary to shed parts of ourselves that no longer serve.

We may not always like what we see when we look inward. We may find it's not always convenient to act in integrity with our beliefs. We may even discover it's harder to find a new way of approaching things than it is to stay the same. But if you're one of those people who hates it when others don't walk their talk, then you've got to decide whether you're going to be one of those people you hate or not.

The look on my dog's face tells me that once that squirrel's eyes are opened to the way things need to be from this point forward, he will seek higher ground. And you will too.

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