The Brown Bird of Happiness
I had one of those particularly vivid dreams where you know that ‘dreaming’ is just another facet of immensely meaningful reality, that magnificent toy of consciousness. When I woke I was all ashiver with laughing and delight.
In my dream all the people had been looking for this wonderful blue bird who had done something heroic. I could make up a deed for you, but frankly I don’t remember what the deed was. Everyone was gossiping and ‘Have you heard-ing’ about the blue bird. “Have you seen it?” “No, but I know someone who said she saw it yesterday.” The dream was abuzz with chat and tidbits about the blue bird. We were all looking hither and looking yon for the blue bird.
I came around a corner and there was a large bird slightly stuck in a big jar. Doing my best ‘taking a thorn from the paw of the lion’ routine, I gently unstuck this large bird from the jar. The bird had the jaunty top knot and very triangular beak of a cardinal, but he was a deep chocolate brown color instead of scarlet and was about ten times the size. As I gently cradled this big brown bird in my arms against my chest and smoothed his shiny feathers, I was struck with the sudden absurd and delicious knowledge that this was the hero bird that everyone had been searching for. His belly feathers were so soft, and ruffled in the warm breeze. He looked me mischievously in the eye. He wasn’t blue at all. He was the brown bird of happiness.
Of course. I knew at once the breathtaking truth. Our ideas of happiness are quite rigidly conditioned. We are all searching diligently or frantically for versions of happiness, items of happiness, that are imposed upon us by the subtle tyranny of the past. Birds of happiness are blue, we are quite sure. This tyranny is distinctly insidious. It prevents what’s happening right under our noses from being happiness. Instead we have restless, inchoate longings for happinesses defined, not by our own present deft attention, but by other agents. Parents, friends, movies, books, religions, the patterns of our own past.
The large brown bird nestled calmly in my arms. His feathers were very dry and rustled when I hugged him gently. Very gently because although he weighed quite a lot, he was startlingly light for his size.
He had given me anew a present of the present, this brown bird of happiness. He had stirred and spurred me to dwell in a vivid immediacy. One could only stay alert because who knew? Happiness might turn out to be a brown bird, not blue. If one insisted on it being blue, one might miss happiness altogether.
I was loath to give him up, my brown bird of happiness, but I had to let him go too. I couldn’t just trade blue for brown. This was the hardest part. He could always fly in my inner sky as a talisman, a reminder, but I couldn’t clutch on to him either.
This morning, happiness might be the smooth white paper I’m writing on or the slightly grungy white wool socks that are keeping my feet warm. Or the whisper of my pencil lead across the paper. Perhaps the plush silver Burmese kitten, Frolic, who’s convinced that a ratty scrap of paper she found under my desk is a toy. Or the next bird of happiness I find might even be blue.
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