Life of Objects No. 3, paper collage, 2022
I’ve been sprinkling food on the ground beneath my bird feeders for the past year. The squirrels very much appreciate it, of course, as do the doves and sparrows, who often show up in large numbers during cold weather. Although, the reason I do it, really, is to feed the crows.
Our neighborhood crows visit several times a day, usually in a flock of 3-10. They’re too big to fit on my bird feeders. If there’s no food on the ground, they will “caw” loudly and persistently until food arrives. (To be sure, I am the one who’s conditioned in this scenario.) What’s fascinating about crows: they’re extremely intelligent. They belong to the family corvidae (“corvids”) and are among the smartest birds in the world. They are capable of problem-solving. They know how to use tools. They are capable of facial recognition and are known to hold grudges against individuals (including humans) who’ve harmed them. They have tight family bonds and even hold funerals for other crows.
What’s unfortunate is that we often fail to appreciate them because they’re so common and, when compared to brightly colored songbirds, are rather plain-looking. Indeed, this morning when I went outside to feed them, I was struck by this very thought. And on walking back into the house and watching them eat from a distance (they’ll only come down from the trees if no humans or pets are present), I was struck by another thought: tread lightly.
Maybe a strange thought to have after feeding a flock of hungry crows. Or maybe not. I often get a unique sense of peace when I am in nature—a sense that all is well. And that includes me. That is, I am well and good and worthy as I am…and I should be sure to treat myself and others and all of my pursuits that way. Nature restores my sense of trust in myself. And indeed, there was something about my interaction with the crows this morning that inspired a sense of wellbeing—that, in effect, took me out of myself, out of the normal bounds of my perception, for a moment.
Tread lightly with yourself. I need to be reminded of that from time to time. I imagine many of us do. Unless I make a continuous, conscious effort to treat myself with compassionate kindness, I will revert to operating from a place of self-distrust. I will be my own taskmaster. I will be driven by a sense of lack and insecurity—a gnawing sense that I need to be and do more, that I need to be better. And I will sabotage myself without consciously meaning to—but I will do it because something within is probably telling me that’s what I deserve. That’s part of how my darker impulses seem to operate.
During the course of my readings, I have begun to envision these responses as well-worn roads. Ways of thinking and behaving that no longer suit me (if ever they did). The stories I tell myself about who and how I should be or how the world should be are roads I’ve traveled again and again. When X happens, I walk the road that leads to Y, my response, even if Y isn’t helpful or productive. But it’s the road I know. Maybe what I need to do, in that case, is build a new road. Even if I don’t realize it. Especially if I don’t realize it.
I am less and less a creature of influences in myself which operate beyond my ken in the realms of the unconscious. I am increasingly an architect of self. I am free to will and choose. I can, through accepting my individuality, my ‘isness,’ become more of my uniqueness, more of my potentiality.Carl R. Rogers
It is my experience that one effective way to do this—to build a new road, say, from one that leads to self-sabotage or lashing out or negative self-talk to one that leads to more helpful and productive responses—is by altering our perception. For me, this isn’t something that can be learned in a book or that can be accomplished by thinking alone. It needs to be experienced. I need a moment in which I see differently. A moment in which a crow is more than just a crow. It’s like witnessing a brand new road where there was none before—it is the distinct sense that a different way of being is possible.
This ability to envision is surely part of the healing power of imagination. But it is also, to my mind, a part of the healing power of nature. This is a gift that nature gives us by virtue of its being—the ability to see differently. To reorient ourselves. To take a detour from the roads we know and move closer to our own “isness,” as Rogers calls it.
To see, to hear, means nothing. To recognize (or not to recognize) means everything.André Breton
What’s more: I think our souls are desperate for that kind of experience. Doing what we’ve always done the same way we’ve always done it is sometimes the recipe for a miserable life. A final thought that came to mind while contemplating crows this morning: the natural world is always reaching out to us, always beckoning to be seen, to be recognized, and always inviting us to see differently. It is up to us whether or not we allow it in.
Just a reminder: I am having a Black Friday Sale through midnight tomorrow (11:59 p.m. ET). All art prints are 25% off. Use code FRIDAY25 at checkout.