Every time I unfurl my Yoga mat or try to sit in quiet meditation it’s the same thing: cra cra cra cra craaaaaaa! While we were away on holiday, the seagulls that nest nearby welcomed a new baby. That baby is helpless and needy and EVERYWHERE. Its call is plaintive, persistent, repetitive.
At 4 one morning I hear the baby seagull’s feet stamping on the roof above my bed. My five year old cowers and asks fearfully, “What’s that?” “It’s a baby seagull,” I sigh, understanding that we are now, thanks to that seagull, awake for the day.
The baby seagull is the talk of the neighbourhood. One neighbour growls that it woke her up at 5am. Another thinks it’s nesting on my roof. We stand in the road, our arms crossed over our chests, rocking our weight from foot to foot as the children ride their bikes in circles around us. The jury is in: the baby seagull is annoying us all.
I mentioned the Annoying Baby Seagull in my Yoga class a couple of weeks ago simply saying, “Every time I practise my Yoga at home, I can hear a baby seagull calling to its parents.” I stopped to draw breath and before I could even mention how annoying the seagull is, and how it was ruining my peaceful neighbourhood, a student breathed, “Awwww!”
AS THOUGH THE SEAGULL IS ADORABLE.
I paused. I reeled. She thinks the baby seagull is…cute.
I am again reminded that perspective and what thoughts we form about something make a world of difference to how we see the world. Our lives are full of annoying baby seagulls—metaphorical ones, that is—and how we think about those annoyances can be revealing.
When I stop to consider why that seagull annoys me so much (when someone else sighs a saccharine, “Awww!” at its very mention) I acknowledge that my reaction teaches me about me. It reveals to me my own unmet needs, my own negative thoughts… how quickly (and shamefacedly) they turn to thoughts of violence against this innocent (if annoying) creature. Under this very small and persistent pressure, I notice how I respond.
When we meditate, we sit on a mat or cushion and watch our thoughts. And yet life itself is a meditation. We can watch our thoughts at every point in the day, sidling up to ourselves as a neutral observer, to see how those petty annoyances affect us. It’s demonstrative. We learn about ourselves. With practice, we learn to take a step back from those thoughts. And in that backward step we withdraw from striking the first blow. We momentarily retreat from launching an attack. We give ourselves a moment’s pause in which to decide: what, if anything, do I really want to do about this? We create space.
One of my best friends used to say that every Lent he would record in a notebook every unkind thought or word he had spoken about someone else in those 40 days. At the end of Lent, he said he had a very accurate self-description. Food for thought, perhaps.
How do we respond to those who get under our skin and make us itch? It’s worth noticing because in that moment’s notice, there is a pause, and in the pause, the possibility of liberation.
Copyright Lisa Hassan Scott 2015.