The Bird is As You Choose it to Be

This is not my own. It is a retelling of an old Oriental proverb. Yet the wisdom it contains is simple, memorable, and impacting.

High in the Himalayan mountains lived a wise old man. Some said he was crazy. Periodically, he ventured down into the local village to entertain the villagers with his knowledge and skills. One of his skills was to foresee and name the contents of whatever the villagers held in their pockets, boxes…or minds. One day, a few young boys from the village decided to play a joke on the wise old man to discredit his “special abilities.”

One boy came up with the idea to capture a bird and hide it in his hands. He knew of course, the wise old man would perceive that the object in his hands was a bird. So the boy devised a plan. After the wise old man  correctly guessed the object in his hands was a bird, the boy would ask him if the bird was dead or alive. If the wise man said the bird was alive, the boy would crush the bird in his hands, so that when he opened his hands the bird would be dead. But, If the wise man said the bird was dead, the boy would open his hands and let the bird fly free. So no matter what the old man said, the boy would prove the old man a fraud.

The following week, the wise old man came down from the mountain into the village. The boy quickly caught a bird and cupping it out of sight in his hands, walked up to the wise old man and asked, “Old man, old man, what is it that I have in my hands?”

The wise old man said, “You have a bird, my son.” Of course, he was right.

The boy then asked, “Old man, old man, tell me: Is the bird alive or is it dead?”

The wise old man looked at the boy, thought for a moment and said, “The bird is as you choose it to be.”

And so it is. Life is a gift. Each moment, each encounter—every celebration, delight, challenge and disappointment—is fundamental to the gift. You cannot shut down one part of your heart, such as the part that feels pain, and ever hope to feel unfettered joy again, since the same emotional nerve centers control both zones. Cut the circuits to one and you will short the other. Joy and sorrow are inextricably woven into the mystery of each breath. I cannot laugh if I do not know how to cry, and vice-versa. Thus, free-will is the power deposited into your own hands, a power granted by God to shape and respond to each moment. Every moment I embrace with beautiful surrender is the next moment of my living heart becoming more alive. Every moment I deny, hardening my soul, is the next moment of my waking death. What will you do with your gift? The bird is as you choose it to be.

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