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peter falk

Birds Sing of the Dao

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Had a tremendous experience Saturday morning while in the woods at Mt. Bijia Park near our school here in China. A few days before I had discovered this power spot for birds. It's along a foot trail up the mountain where a few diferent habitats merge. The travels and habits of a number of different species converge here and I decided to check out in more thoroughly Saturday morning. Its a kind of ley line intersection for birds.


One reason I returned to this spot was that I thought I glimpsed an orange-bellied sunbird there the previous week. It is one of the most colorful local birds and a real gem of the forest. Spotting and communing with these things really takes you into a deeper relationship with "place." I think birds connect our inner qi with the outer qi. Somehow they link our micrcosm with the macrocosm. Their songs, when listened to receptively, help reshape our jing and align it with the external jing, or essence of the place. this is why bird language and concentric rings were so important to the native amercans, and other primitive cultures around the world. it is how we communicate with nature, just as alchemical cultivation enables us to communicate with nature.


Doing qigong and its associated practices develop a language and mechaism for uniting with the universe and understanding its language. birds do the same. But you must be in a deeper state than ordinary in order to fully appreciate and understndd it--inner quiet, a silent monkey mind. Thus the time we spend practicing qigong and the time we spend quietly in nature, we learn to communicate with the macrocosm.


So I was just off this trail trying to spot some birds I heard moving in the brush. So far in this one little area i'd seen laughingthrushes, coucals, thrushes, possibly a sunbird, bulbuls, and magpies.


The whole thing started with the bulbuls. These birds represent transition or transformation. their song invites you to change, to adpat to new suroundings, to seek further within and without yourself, a shift. I think specifically it was the red-whiskered bulbul that invited me in. This has been going on for over week now as I get to know them.


Saturday morning, I was sitting quietly and still off the trail when i heard the single loud note of the red-billed blue magpie strike like lightening in the forest and a flash of opening up hit me and there wash a rattling call to awareness. I sat with this for a while and watched the magpies.


I moved again to the trail because I heard a lot of activity over there. I stood still for a while letting the birds relax into my presence as I relaxed into theirs. As I stood peering into the brush searching for a thrush I heard, WHAM! A loud, taunting song erupted from behind me. It was deep and resonant, eerie in its voice, even terifying. I dont scare easily in the woods and have even slept in the open around bears and mountain lions, but this song shook me to my core. At first I thought someone was trying top[lay a joke on me and looked for the trickster to appear.


Woop woop woop! Woop woop woop woop! Woop woop woop!


It was single note that harmonized with everything and created the sort of earth shattereing and recreative force of the choral movement from Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Yet it exceeded that in simplicity by degrees beyond imagination. Thus the reality of it ws that much more astonishing.


Then it stopped. I scanned the forest edges for possible candidates but saw nothing.


A little while later it started up again, this time in front of me futher up the slope. And the answer came from behind. What magic creature makes this noise? I had to find out. I moved into the forest slowly, stopped, and listened again. It was in the same place. I moved a little more and stopped again. Still in the same place. I repeated this and kept hearing the song in the same place. Yet I was not in a postion to look for the singer yet. I moved further and stopped again. This time the songster had moved on. still within range, but i'd exceeded his safe-distance.


I took a seat and kept still, listening. He and his friend across the way were talking to each other, or to me. Or perhpas both. I waited and waited and waited. They never came closer. I could hear the morning exercisers on the trail, some shouting and singing.


See, there's these hollerers here. Whenever they hike in the mountains they stop every few minutes and let out a good holler. I don't know where the custom comes from, but it's here. And it's damn annoying. In the disatnce there is actually a romantic quality to it, as in the old sense of the word, not the candle light dinner sense of the word. But as they get closer and you hear how loud it really is, it loses all appeal and you realize there'sa giant ego pounding the trail completely unaware of its envirnment just waiting for the next moment to announce its presence to everyone within earshot wheter they care or not.


I tried to move in on the bird again because the hollerers were coming my way. I just couldn't get close enough. I'm sure the bird read my anxiety and kept its distance. Had I been able to relax more deeply and penetrate the inner silence further, it would've waited for me, because that's what birds do.


I realized, this bird, with its terrifyingly taunting woop woop woop had an important message for me. He was inviting me into the unknown. That is exactly it. He was inviting, and at the same time, daring me, to enter the unknown. that was the job of this bird. And anyone who went slowly enough and listened enough, would get it.


But what was this unknown he was inviting me to? Was it the wuji? Was it something with my relationship? Was it a lifestyle change? What was it? The irony of this line of questioning didn't hit me at the time, but it's obvious now. The unkown is the unkonwn, and it will remain unkown until you get there. You can see where it is and walk towards it, but you dont know what it is till you get there.


I was hoping the bird had a more precise answer for me, but he just kept taunting me from the bushes. At last the hollereres were right upon me, yelling whatever it is they yell, and the birds fell silent. Perhpas these hollerers were trying to scare off the unkown. Perhaps they were afraid of the unkown and their shouting was some way of concealing their consuming fear of what lay ahead. Perhaps they just wished to be left alone by whatever mysteries were out there.


I came home still shaken by the experience and wondering where I would enter the unkown and how. Which direction would I take or would I be shown? That bird call had something to do with the infinite wonder of the core space. The infinite power and mystery that is there may or may not have anything to do with qigong, but just is. And its waiting to be discovered.


Over the last couple of days, I realize that the whole alchemical process is a journey into the unkown. It's about transformation. Sure you "know" the formulas or "know" the practices. But you don't know what changes they'll bring in you. You don't know how they're going to reshape your jing, qi, or shen. You don't know where you're going to end up or even where your next step will land. And unless you let go of the "known," you will never find the unknown. It's hidden in the forest. And thus is the biggest obstacle to the path.

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Awesome :) I think you're absolutely right, transformation is about becoming something different than you might expect.


Incidentally I was once out walking the dogs when I saw a robin playing on a branch quite low to the ground. It jumped up and down and sung even louder when the dogs passed it. They looked curious for a moment then ran away. When I stopped next to it I got the same treatment, it seemed undaunted despite its size. For a brief moment I glimpsed that the spirit of this little robin was soaring, and that whatever had excited it was a great deal bigger than myself! I had to yield and walk away.

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