This morning I came across a bird in a cage on the porch of someone’s residence. I smiled and thought, “What a pretty bird, just nibbling on its food.” Shortly after, I noticed another bird in its own cage, but this time, my reaction was different. The second bird drew my attention because it was ferociously flapping its wings; and obviously getting nowhere. A wave of both sadness and clarity came over me.
At first, I felt sorry for the bird — wouldn’t you? It had absolutely no way of getting out; no control over its situation. I started wondering about my responses, and why I was having such an intense reaction to the second bird. After all, they were the same bird, in the same cage. Yes, I realize each bird was doing something different, but why did their actions matter so much?
This made me aware that it was my reaction that I was reacting so strongly to, not the actual birds. The first bird (at least for example’s sake) had everything it needed: water, food, safety, shade, and a pretty garden to look at. The second bird has the same food/water/shelter/environment, but was desperately trying to escape.
I assumed that the first bird was happy, as it appeared calm, content and had everything it “needed”. Naturally, I thought the second bird unhappy, as its desperate attempt to escape left it feeling trapped and helpless.
I was the one, though, to assign these feeling-states to each bird, and this was based on my own perception. It became clear to me then that my reactions to each bird were based on my own feelings and experiences of happiness and unhappiness. The calm was easy to see in the first bird, and more importantly, the frustration in the second.
Someone else might have seen the second bird flap its wings and thought, “Oh, look at that bird, he is excited!” What I saw was frustration and desperation.
Why?? Well, the frustration in my life is greater than the calm. You could say, then, that I am filled with more frustration than calm. So when I saw the bird flapping, I immediately assumed it was in distress, as distress is present within me.
So how do we know how the bird really felt? It doesn’t matter how he felt — well to the bird, maybe it does — what matters is the lesson that your reactions to everything are based on perception, and this is so heavily influenced by our own experience and feelings. This includes all aspects of experience: upbringing, background, environment, and especially context.
In this case, I associated one bird with “good” and the other with “bad”. This was so easy to do because in my own life I vacillate between the two (more than I might like to admit).
Someone else may not have viewed the birds’ situations as “good” or “bad”. They might have simply observed, “Oh, there is a bird eating, and there is another bird flapping.” Their reaction might have never gone farther than that — at least not if they were less attached to their emotions than I am.
How we experience the world impacts how we perceive the world, and we all experience it differently.
You might see a homeless person on the street and feel sorry for them. The homeless person might just feel like they have everything they need, though. That is the life they know.
In travel to poorer countries, I’ve never seen so many people appear to be so legitimately happy. One might think about how crappy it is for workers to be stuck with such long hours at incredibly low paying jobs. Those same workers, though, seem to view themselves as lucky and fulfilled.
Perception is everything. Experience influences perception. The more aware you are of your perceptions, the more you can influence your experiences.
A caged bird may be a caged bird — singing.
Oh, and here’s some free yoga 🙂