August 13, 2011

Yes, Polly Wants a Cracker. What a Parrot Taught Me about Desire.

Photo: Ernst Vikne

Day One with Kasuku

About five years ago, I was lounging on the open porch of a cozy, three-bedroom bungalow at sunrise, overlooking Kenya’s Lake Baringo and the cobalt Tugen Hills. It was the start of three days of house sitting for an Irish expat family, and this involved bird sitting their African Grey parrot, “Kasuku.”

There I sat on day one of my ‘service.’ The family had left, and I still hadn’t quite made the switch into solitary mode. The previous night, all of us — the wild-eyed couple, their five year-old twin girls and I — had sat around the table talking, eating and laughing by candlelight.

Alone, down, I approached the bird. He sure had talked up a storm with the family, so why not start a conversation?

“Such a pretty bird,” I sang to him. Nothing.

“Hello-o.” Nothing.

Photo: Sergey Yeliseev

I stared at him; he stared back. His glance seemed, well, lacking soul. I turned away, dumbstruck.

”He’s more like a feathered robot,” I mumbled, wallowing in imagined rejection. Soon enough, I dropped my efforts with the bird and started milling around — making tea, reading, journaling, staring at marabou storks, which, from a distance, looked like old, British men in raincoats.

Hours passed, and the solitude finally felt soft, warm, friendly. As the great lightbulb in the sky dimmed and the hippos began to grunt, I was content at last. And Kasuku? Well, I forgot he was even around.

But he had a different idea about me.

From that very moment — the moment I forgot about him — that bird started to approach and talk with me. By day two, he was interrupting my reading of a fascinating book to sit on my shoulder, eat melon from my hand and take my glasses off my face.

He’d shimmy along a strung rope that ran under the porch canopy and recite with accuracy conversations of every single person he had ever heard: suggestions in the soft, Swahili accent of the house help; cacophonous fights between the Irish couple; the pleas and giggles of the girls.

By day three, Kasuku began stuffing his head under my hands and arms. Suddenly, I was trying to manage his demands for attention over a good book! He had literally exposed himself completely in a space free of my desires and agendas.

This is the lesson that I get from pets and their only-natural wiles: obsessively clinging to desire robs us of the present moment, where its product lives and grows. Denying desire, on the other hand, puts a part of our human nature into permanent detention.

Your desire is valid. So, realize when your fist is around it and open your palm. Release it; allow it to mix in with the rest of your life and manifest as a jewel of experience.

There is an orchestration to everyone and everything. Just because we can’t explain it, doesn’t mean it’s chaos. Animals exemplify this; they can teach us so much of what we forget when we are so busy thinking.


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