I am teaching a yoga class at my house this week, when out of the blue comes a “thud.” I know immediately a bird has just flown head first into one of our windows. There is nothing I can do in the moment, so I continue teaching; hoping against all hope that it is not dead, while equally knowing that based on the force of the thud, it likely is dead.
After class, I look out the window to see a beautiful robin, the very harbinger of Spring itself, lying dead on the ground. I decide to let it be where it is, thinking (hoping) that an animal will come by in the night to take it away so I don’t have to be the one to do it. As fate would have it, the robin is still there in the morning.
This is mine to do.
As I carry it towards the woods looking for a place to lay it down, I am connected to two things. The first being the childhood memories that start popping into my mind. How when I was a kid, I would find dead birds, mice, the desiccated turtles that had escaped our aquarium only to be found months later, along with the kitten that died on my birthday and more, that I would bury under the giant pine tree in our backyard.
In honor of that “random” memory arising right at the moment I have this dead bird in my hand, I look for a pine tree.
The second thing that comes up for me is that even when we as humans are trying not to do harm, we do. Like building a house in the middle of a huge open space that serves as the flight path for many eager birds building their nests at this time of year. We did not do it with the intention to harm. But it brought harm nonetheless. As evidenced by the robin in my hands, and all of the other consequences to the natural world through our choice to build something.
I do not say this to beat myself up, or even to say that we should not have built the house. That would be a waste of time, and an exercise in a guilty indulgence that takes us nowhere. As in, if I feel bad enough about this, it somehow balances what I did. It does not.
I say it as a point of fact. Everything we do has consequences to everything else around us.
There is no getting around this reality. And yet, we try. We pretend what we’re doing doesn’t matter. We ignore the consequences of our ways. We deny we have anything to do with the devastations going on all around us. We kick lots of cans down the road despite the impact it will have for the generations to come.
Or, as happens in so many segments of the culture (like the area I live in), we endlessly beat ourselves up, ever-guilty about every single choice we make. Frozen in our ability to feel good about being alive because we cannot choose anything without feeling remorse. We then we go on to judge and accuse others of not doing enough to save the planet. Of not caring enough. Of not feeling ashamed enough of our very presence.
It’s all exhausting, and it all misses the point. Everything we do has consequences to everything around us. Now what? Without hiding behind guilt, fear, or denial, now what? It is an absolute fact that we bring an impact to bear upon the world by the very nature of our existence here.
What if we started with that knowing, and lived from there? But this does not fit neatly into a definitive answer, and therefore does not sit well with us.
Do no harm, as best as you can is what I say. What might that even look like? In my view it is far less about the specific actions we take (although they matter a lot), and more about your level of awareness. A kind of consciousness that says I know I walk heavy here, how can I see that and still live in relationship with everything around me?
How can I honor all Life while living here as fully, responsibly, and joyfully as I can?
This is far more difficult to do and be with than guilt, or manmade rules. Which is why we likely opt for those approaches rather than a deep exploration around how we are here. If we were deeply contemplating our existence here, it would mean looking into the closed eyes of all the dead robins we have ever had a hand in.
Without turning away. Without beating ourselves up. Without blaming someone else, or feeling like we were entitled to something. What if we just saw that to be human in modern times is so very, very complicated, and that the very best that we can do, is to do the best that we can do.