Of all the pieces on display at the Studio Museum in Harlem, none of them quite stuck out to me like the photograph of the little green lovebird staring at the red brick wall that hung in the lobby. And so as a challenge to myself to review something so simple and easy to overlook, and to give you something to read about other than the museums, exhibits, and art shows I normally review, I’m going to go a little in depth about why this little green oblivious parrot deserves our respect, and why we may look to him as an example of how to better ourselves.
I know it’s easy to look at him and think “Aren’t you a little absentminded, bird? Staring at the red wall as if to accomplish something? You’ll surely be disappointed in how little you accomplish.”
The bird in the picture would probably retort that from the perspective of the bugs he eats for breakfast, he’s quite a large absentminded bird.
But what strikes me in particular about the bird is that in staring at the bricks, he accomplishes nothing. Maybe it’s the warmth in his colors and the walls surrounding him, or his posture, but a vibration seems to radiate from him: He’s proud of what he’s doing, and even though he’s confined or limited to standing and staring at a wall, he’s content anyway. He’s pleased as punch.
Why is that? I would suggest that this little doofy bird must be pretty wise to see reason to enjoy himself doing such a mundane chore as standing and staring, but I’m reminded of the Chinese philosophies of the Tao (The Way) at the same time.
The bird knows that he, the wall, and the world around him are all part of the Tao, The Way, and the Truth. A universal truth that cannot be changed, for it is already flawless. The bird knows that all is one, and he feels connected to the world around him on an existential level. Whether he were on a tree branch, Staring at a wall, or chatting up the ladies at the birdbath, no matter where he goes or what he does, he knows that he’s always part of his surroundings.
In short, you could make him stare at a wall, push him down the stairs, or poke him in the eye, and the bird doesn’t care. No matter what happens to him, good or bad, he is one with truth, and the truth is good, therefore so is he.
He’s not a very material bird either. He has no pimpin’ cadillac, no roof over his head, no loved one at home that he can return to to share affectionate words and actions with. He knows that the material objects and mortal pleasures of the world are just that- Of the world, of the Tao, and of the Way. Just by surrounding himself in the world around him, he gains all the contentment of his surroundings. When he sees you kissing your honey, he doesn’t envy you, he feels your joy right with you.
He’s not a particularly bright bird. He doesn’t trouble himself particularly with how the world works- he knows that it does, it is, and it’s him. He has no agenda, he may have meetings and hang out with his bird buddies, but he’s never worried to be late, nor does he get angry when people are late to his parties. He accepts the consequences of such trivialities and moves forward, and if he has to cancel a long standing appointment for brunch, he shrugs it off and reschedules.
He knows that those pigeons and sparrows that wander New York constantly worrying and looking for food struggle every day- They hustle, they bustle, they’re constantly anxious, not trusting the world to provide for them, feeling the need to scavenge crumbs and whatsit from the road. He doesn’t concern himself with the future or worries about whether he’ll have food, he trusts the world and the Way to provide for him. And if he starves to death, that’s part of the way and just having lived at all is to be celebrated.
Ivan Ford took a regular bird on a sidewalk, and immortalized him into an uncanny image of a Taoist with the click of a camera, and that’s pretty respectable.
And if you think that’s BS, feel free to tell me why.
But the next time you’re stressed, panicked, or the world is getting you down, ask yourself.
What would that bird do?
(He’d do that ^)