On a fall day in San Jose, California when I was about 8 years old, a flock of birds flew into the bare limbs of the tree in our front yard. I ran under the tree in wonder to see the hundreds of birds just above me. Within seconds, I was covered from the top of my head to my toes with bird poop.

46 years later in early winter 2002, I walked in sub-freezing temperatures and gusty winds with my head up and eyes open after leaving work in downtown Seattle, Washington.  I had to glance down periodically to step carefully on the salt-encrusted icy pavement and streets. Everyone else had their heads down.

At the intersection of 5th Ave., Stewart St. & Olive Way, I looked up at a Giant Sequoia that was lit up by hundreds of large holiday lights installed in and around the tree.  I saw 1,000’s of starlings and other birds flying into the tree to huddle together. I wondered how they all knew where to huddle for warmth.

Other pedestrians flowed around me, oblivious to the sights above.  I tried pointing out the tree to a few pedestrians who were more intent on walking to their destinations.

I got lost watching the endless stream of birds joining those already in the Sequoia.

The “bird-tree” is but one example of thousands of momentary experiences of seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling or smelling or otherwise becoming aware of what is right in front of me at any moment.

It is a practice that I continue to develop whenever I walk.  Whether one may call it mindful walking or conscious movement or anything else, what I’ve learned is that when I am not caught up in the 10,000 forms of self-absorption, selfishness, self-seeking and internal debates, conversations, opinions and thoughts, wondrous moments unfold in all directions.

And periodically another human being drifts by smiling.

About two years ago, I was standing on First Avenue at a bus stop next to Pike’s Place Market on a beautiful sunny day.  I watched a cheerful man dressed in outlandish clothes pick out from the garbage cans take-away containers of coffee, juices, food and eat or drink them. He had an immense smile.  During the same period, hundreds of grim-faced, serious, stern, unsmiling people walked by.  I had to consider who was the happy person at that moment.

I have since read something said by Shunryu Suzuki.

‎”A clinical psychiatrist questioned [Shunryu] Suzuki Roshi about consciousness.

“I don’t know anything about consciousness,’ Suzuki said. ‘I just try to teach my students about how to hear the birds sing.'”

“To Shine One Corner of the World – moments with Shunryu Suzuki” (2002 Broadway Books).

Every moment is an opportunity to just hear, see, sense and become the “birds.”

Daniel Woo

(Copyright: Daniel D. Woo, June 30, 2010; updated April 4, 2012)

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