Monday mornings we are usually at mom’s house on the slopes of Big Tujunga wash in Tujunga/Sunland. Jan & I have been exploring where best to take walks. The past two times we’ve driven down to the flats, have crossed Foothill Blvd, parked and strolled around on the west side of the boulevard, walking up the slope toward the Verdugo hills.
I particularly enjoy this walk. While the streets lack sidewalks, traffic when we’re wanting to walk is always light. Mostly single occupancy houses, my guess largely constructed in the sixties and seventies, with a few throw backs, and the odd more recent house, usually larger than the others. Lots of mature trees, and a rather glorious infestation of peacocks.
We are aware they’re not exactly universally loved in the neighborhood. Their cry, something similar to an aggrieved cat, carries a distance. They wander pretty much anywhere they want and can be seen on top of roofs as well as cars. And, well, they poop where they want.
One of the things Jan and I like in the moment is that we see peahens wandering around with their broods. Today we saw twice two peahens together with what we assume are their combined broods. The chicks are beyond cute, little round things with those silly tufts on top of their heads.
Today we also saw another problem the leads them to be less than loved by people who are not passing through. We came across a particularly large peacock who seemed offended by the image he saw reflected on the side wall of a highly polished Mercedes, and was proceeding to give the offending bird some serious pecking. Pop! pop! pop! A slow moving Gatling gun of pecking the side of the car. As we approached the peacock sidled over to the back of the car, but continued pecking. As we got closer he simply moved over to the far side of the car, without a break in his pecking.
A casual glance reveled the owner would know something had happened to their car. Kind of like being shot with bee bees.
What’s the term?
I think it’s attractive nuisance. Maybe not as defined in law. But, cute birds. Especially the males. And for folk like Jan and me, a treat to behold. For someone living with them. Well…
And it all reminds me of thoughts during meditation.
Of course the word meditation calls for some refinement. The word all by itself means doing something with your head. I mean within Zen’s practices of intimacy.
We are told to sit down, shut up, and pay attention.
And as anyone who has tried the practice has learned the shutting up is a pretty hard thing to do.
Some people think that means cessation of thoughts. In reality that’s a physical impossibility so long as there’s brain activity. And, as I hope you know, cessation of brain activity has replaced cessation of heart beats as the certain way to tell you’re dead.
It is possible to attain states of deep quiet where thoughts appear to be gone. And they have their place in meditation.
But in Zen ultimately the practice is one of presence. It is the great way of intimacy. And it involves not turning away.
My personal favorite description of dealing with thoughts arising during meditation comes from the Japanese Zen missionary to the west, Roshi Shunryu Suzuki. He advised us to consider thoughts as things passing through the field of our minds as if passing through a door, here they are, and then on their own passing out another door.
His big caution is to not invite them for tea.
And here’s the problem for this small reflection. They capture our attention. In that sense they’re not unlike peacocks. They can be beautiful things. Are. They can be cute. They can be annoying, pecking at the side of our car. They can even be hostile.
Now here the utility of the image begins to unwind.
Peacocks in your neighborhood lead to neighborhood wars. Trapping and transporting. Secretly feeding them. Poison. Lots an lots of bad things.
Well, actually, I guess we’re not yet done with the usefulness of the image.
You can’t trap and transport. You shouldn’t secretly feed them. Though there’s a fair chance you will try on occasion. And, well, you can also try to poison them.
Okay, now we’re at the end of the analogy.
There’s the thought. The peacock, or peahen, or peachicks. Cute. Lovely. Or destroying your car.
Rats. Still peacocks…
When peacock means thought, well, the main thing is to not follow it. It arises. If you want you can label it as to the kind of thought. We usually have favorites, but they usually are angry, or grasping, or tales of right and wrong. Name it.
Let it go.
Oh, Here are the peacocks again. The thought like the peacock will return. Scratching. Squawking. Pooping.
But here’s the secret of the project.
It’s not about killing the peacocks, getting rid of them, or anything else. It is noticing and letting go.
All things pass. Even thoughts.
Notice. And, let go.
To paraphrase the old master. Just don’t feed the peacocks.
Just let it be.
Just be intimate with the moment.
And when it is time, let it go.