Some time ago—I don’t remember how long because I didn’t think to keep track—a couple of mourning doves came to inspect a flowerpot that hangs from the ceiling of my porch. They went back and forth, inspecting the flowerpot, for a day or two, and then they left. A few weeks later they were back (of course, I don’t know if they were really the same birds, but that’s how it seemed to me). This time they stayed, and energetically set to work building a nest.
My husband and I were so excited! Every day we watched them working away, from a distance, in the hope that they would feel welcome. We also took great pains to keep our dog distracted so he would not scare them away. Once the nest was ready, the birds took turns sitting on it for weeks, and we just couldn’t wait until the eggs hatched.
We waited, and waited, for what seemed like ages. And then suddenly, my husband spotted the babies. Only, to our dismay, they didn’t seem so little—in fact, they were already so bulky that their parents could barely sit on them. The eggs must have hatched long before we saw the babies, only they had been carefully hidden from us. It was incredibly magical, waking up to see them feeding, and then basking in the sun for hours on end. We were able to watch them grow for about two weeks, and then they were gone—just like that!
We marveled at how quickly nature works. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated. Time had passed so quickly—one moment they were there, and the next, they were gone. And it got me thinking about my own life, which also seems to be speeding along at an excessively rapid pace. Whenever I become intensely aware of the passing of time, I am tempted to start packing my days with activities, in the hope that I will accomplish the most possible with the precious little time that I have on this earth. Yet proceeding in this way often only serves to further accelerate the sense of time passing, and the fear of being absent from my life. So instead, I turn to the Satipatthana Sutra and its soothing refrain:
In this way, in regard to the body [a monk] abides contemplating the body internally… externally… both internally and externally. He abides contemplating the nature of arising… of passing away… of both arising and passing away in the body. Mindfulness that ‘there is a body’ is established in him to the extent necessary for bare knowledge and continuing mindfulness. And he abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world. That too is how in regard to the body he abides contemplating the body.Analayo 2003, 18
Why is it so reassuring to me? I believe it has something to do with the reminder that my own body, being a sort of cosmos of its own, experiences birth and death repeatedly throughout any given day. Of course, most days I am not aware of this—the frequent loss of grey matter in my brain does not pull at my heart strings the same way that a baby bird flying away from its nest does. Nonetheless, contemplating the body is a wonderful way to mindfully experience the nature of arising and passing away. Yes, creatures will be born, and they will grow, and they will die. And while reflections like this can make me sad, they can also be incredibly liberating, and even comforting—after all, I am made of the same stuff that those birds are made of, and I am made of the same stuff that time is made of. In other words, I am exactly where I need to be: home.
Analayo. 2003. Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization. Birmingham: Windhorse Publications.