“Mommy...Why does that bird keep crashing into our window? What’s wrong with him?” my son asked.
The robin had been hanging around our house for weeks, perching on a piece of patio furniture, gazing at our glass patio door, and periodically flying head on into it - crashing - then falling down, stunned. He’d repeat it several times - for hours some days, unless we’d scare him off.
“He sees his reflection. He might think it’s another bird, but it’s really just him.”
As I said it, I thought about how we, as human beings, have the tendency to beat ourselves up. We can be so self critical - of our physical appearance, our abilities, our emotional state, our behavior, and of mistakes we make that it feels like we are crashing into a window over and over again. Sometimes the self-loathing “crash” can be in the form of extremely negative self-talk, excessive drinking, taking risks or sabotaging relationships that we don’t feel worthy of.
We also might see certain qualities or behaviors in others that disturb us, however, it’s important to consider that sometimes, we are just recognizing our own reflection. We are seeing a quality that lives within us and we are rejecting it. It’s not about the other person, it’s about us...we are looking at our own reaction reflecting back at us, just as the bird reacts to its reflection by crashing into it. The robin thinks he’s seeing another bird, but really, it’s just him.
In Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies, there’s a concept called dualism and non-dualism. As human beings, we have the capacity for self-reflection. We connect with an independent, dualistic sense of self, our ego. We learn that in many ways, we are separate from each other - we look different, we make different choices, we live different lives.
But sometimes, we grow so attached to our differences, that we exist only in this dualistic reality, and assume that everything is separate from us. Our American culture is very much one about independence of the individual. Even our medical system looks at our wellness in pieces, under the assumption that the mind and emotions are separate from the body. Unfortunately all too often, no one makes the connection that they’re all linked. Body, emotions, mind, sense of self, health, environment - it’s all one. One system affects the other and they’re so intertwined that to address them separately is like trying to patch cracks in the mortar, when, if you would step back, you’d see the whole infrastructure is teetering on the brink of collapse. Without that perspective of the whole, looking at individual pieces can result in a lot of band-aids without a real cure or solution.
While this concept can be applied to many parts of life and society as we know it, I like to consider non-dualism on a personal and interpersonal level - the notion that we are all connected and that we are more similar than we are different. Not only that, but that we can look to others and into nature to see our own reflection - to understand who we are, how to grow, and ultimately, what the solution is to anything we might be experiencing.
We aren’t separate within ourselves and we aren’t separate from each other. Just as any plant, animal or even the earth itself moves through changing cycles of growth, destruction and renewal, so do we. Just as everything has a beginning and end, so do we, and so does every state that manifests - mental, physical, and emotional - all have a beginning and an end. Recognizing these cycles as part of the design of our universe, our world, and our reality, can help us accept not only ourselves and any life change that we move through, but we can see ourselves reflected in the world around us. We can begin to see that we are all one, in the ways that count. From this place, grows compassion and understanding, empathy and universal love for not just each other but all living things.
As I watched the bird crash into the patio door over and over again, I was reminded of the importance of letting go and moving on. Why would we want to do anything else? Seeing his struggle and understanding it, feeling it, and knowing what I as an individual could choose to do to stop the pattern, I saw my own reflection in the behavior of a robin on a warm summer’s morning.
We can choose to look into the mirror and celebrate the details of our individuality, but know that at heart, we are all from the same center and live similar cycles. We can look at our reflection and know that we are not alone. We can choose to step back and see all the intertwined fibers of our reality, and we can choose not to suffer over life’s details, but to accept whatever we are presented with as an opportunity to learn and to support each other with compassion and understanding. Because we are all in this thing called “life” together. We all share the spark, from the tiniest insect to the largest tree, from the most impatient woman to the most frail child, from the strongest man to the most wise elder. In the most important ways, we are the same...
The bird doesn’t come around anymore. I imagine he’s moved on, in the moment, flying somewhere free, memory of crashing into his own reflection just dust in the wind.