Last week, my wife and I were walking down our rural road when we noticed a large bird enter the space above our heads and circle lazily. Then a second arrived, and a third. Probably Turkey Vultures, magnificent in flight. And suddenly, all three were just gone. We didn’t see where they went.
At first, we felt the sky as empty, emptied of birds, lacking. But as we looked more fully, what before was merely background became something else, something more. We saw in full clarity the deep blue beauty of the clear afternoon sky. Not only the sky had cleared, but our minds.
The great poet and translator, David Hinton, in his book Hunger Mountain: A Field Guide to Mind and Landscape, said when we open our eyes, we open the sky inside us. We feel this empty space the size of the universe.
A Chinese poem, says Hinton, is not a metaphor seen or conjured from inside a spirit or identity center, or a self-separated from the universe, but the mind of the poet at that moment. Hinton quotes an early Chinese Ch’an (Zen) poet, Hsieh Ling-yun, as saying mind is “a tranquil mirror, all mystery and shadow.”
The sky mirrors our conscious awareness coming awake in, or more accurately, as the world. We often think of the sky as that blue or cloud filled something far off in the distance. But it’s also what we breathe in and out right here; what we move though each moment of our lives. We see and breathe in the world and the world sees and breathes in us.
And then the birds were back; first one, then the other two. They circled gracefully into the area above us. One went to sit on the ridgeline of a barn next to the road. The other two soon joined the first, but at the other end. And the first raised its wings, held them out to the side as it would do if it meant to take off. But it stayed in place, in a different sort of flight.
Was this a mating dance? Or was it saluting the sky, the emptiness, the medium in which it flew, and we all lived? Was it bowing? For us, we might bow by first bringing our open hands together; for the vulture, it bowed by opening its wings out. Hinton says the ancient Chinese characters for bow mean hand-whispers, or maybe hand as the silence of mountain peaks, or clear minds. Maybe by opening its wings thusly it became the sky itself, the light, the silence.
We watched to see what the vulture would do next, but it just held the position. The three birds, my wife and I, the barn, the universe. And we walked on. The opening through which the universe was aware of itself walked on….
*To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.
**The photo of the Buzzard Dance was taken on our walk.