In my constant search to find the meaningful connection between the benign and the spiritual, it occurred to me we’re all like pigeons (stay with me, I promise there’s a point to this). Here’s how this conclusion came to be:
Each day, while I’m working to stay present to my clients’ stories, I’m also working really hard to ignore this flock of pigeons that inhabit the neighboring rooftop. They cluck, they coo, they peck, they copulate, sometimes they even fly at my window. I’ve been told they’ve increased their population over the years, staying put and not flying beyond the roofs and gutters. This makes them easy prey. Recently, a hawk caught one of the pigeons. I heard a thump, a squawk, then saw a stream of grey feathers trickle between the buildings. It was like watching a disturbing cartoon.
As their quirky bird shadows invade my office and challenge my attention span, brave souls sit with me and share their deepest insights, feelings and fears. My client’s bring vulnerability and pain to the sacred space I hope I’ve created for them. Each and every one of them is a soul struggling along life’s tumultuous journey. Many want reclamation of Self, inner peace, or understanding of the challenges they face. Others fight desperately to stay put, because they can’t envision change and only want some temporary relief. Some come for existential reasons, others to battle the daemons left by trauma. Some are willing to make the journey, others refuse the call. The one thing they all have in common – as is the case with everyone – they’re seeking a way back to their center.
Life has a funny way of pushing us away from ourself in an effort to bring us back home, doesn’t it?
Journey in itself connotes forward movement and that means obstacles along the way, since no path is without its potholes or fallen trees. In Joseph Campbell’s brilliant classic, The Hero with A Thousand Faces, the voyage of humanity is mapped out through the use of myth, dream and archetypes. In the beginning of everyone’s psychological adventure, we’re thrust into a departure, which repeats itself with each life experience. This call for departure incites fear of the unknown. We fight like hell against leaving. We want to stay put, to cling to the familiar, to not look beyond the rooftop where we were born.
Yet, when we stay, we stagnate. We become psychologically (and sometimes physically) obese. We cling to illusions of self-importance. We use ego defenses, harmful behaviors or judgment to convince ourselves we’re right. Campbell writes:
Often in actual life, and not infrequently in the myths and popular tales, we encounter the dull case of the call unanswered: for it is always possible to run the ear to other interests. Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or “culture,” the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved.
Despite our best efforts to resist this calling, life forces beyond our control will thrust us out of our comfort zone. In most cases, those very real energies show up as depression and anxiety. These are major indicators that something isn’t flowing, that we’ve resisted a call. If this pain grows big enough, we seek aid to help make it across what Campbell calls the first threshold. When we do this, we can then open up to new possibilities and integrate deeper meaning into our lives.
“…some chance word, the smell of a landscape, the taste of a cup of tea, or the glance of an eye may touch a magic spring, and then dangerous messengers begin to appear in the brain. These are dangerous because they threaten the fabric of the security into which we have built ourselves and our family. But they are fiendishly fascinating too, for they carry keys that open the whole realm of the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of self.”
So many of us are like those fat pigeons outside of my office. We don’t want to fly great distances, we don’t think about what lies beyond our own rooftop, nor do we want to. We may not be content, since our stagnation makes us weak and annoyed, yet we know this rooftop.
There’s another type of pigeon, though. One that can look beyond its comfort zone and embrace what’s out there. It knows where it’s going because it’s flown great distances before. This type begins to fly short distances when it’s young, yet it always returns since it’s deeply connected to home. Over time, it gains strength and makes longer flights. It understands how to manage turmoil, since when in flight it reaches its legs back and hold its tail feathers to keep from fatiguing. This pigeon has the same ancestor as “old fatty” yet operates differently. The homing pigeon can push its way through high winds and bad weather. It brings back messages from far away places. It returns home with the wisdom it experienced and then it rests until next time.
Yes, we’re like pigeons. All of us. We can choose to exercise our wings and make strides. We can develop the strength to manage in times of trials. We can learn to fly out of our comfort zone – or not. We can embrace life’s journey or remain dormant and dependent. It’s our choice. Safe travels.
Artwork: Kim Seng