Some little birds let me know that I was being ungrateful. This is what they taught me.
Would you like to be a bird?
It’d be alright, wouldn’t it? Being a bird, doing bird things. Hanging out with your birdy mates.
That’s what I was thinking the other day. I was sitting in my courtyard watching some little birds flit about in the garden.
“Look at them. They don’t have a care in the world,” I thought. “So jealous.”
And that point I had to acknowledge I was in a particular frame of mind. I’d been mulling over a couple of headaches and chores I needed to get sorted. Nothing too hectic, but nothing too fun either.
And in that space, the idea of being a little brown bird pissing about in my hedge was pretty appealing.
But the more I sat and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I would totally not want to be a little brown bird, and that even for all the hardships associated with being human, being human is pretty awesome.
I really should be more grateful.
And if there’s one thing you’ve learnt from these blogs… (Actually if there’s only one thing you’ve learned, what are you doing? Stop reading. Go outside and hit the hedge bro.) But if there’s one thing you’ve learnt I hope that it’s that gratitude is not something that comes. It’s something we create.
Gratitude is like good health. It organically occurs when we put everything in place (like exercise and right diet etc.), but if we don’t put these things in place then it won’t happen.
That’s how gratitude works. If we’re not training ourselves to be awake to the awesome, and if we’re not training ourselves to celebrate the awesome when it comes, then we won’t be grateful.
Gratitude is a conscious practice.
So in that spirit, for my own practice, I decided to sit down and write out three reasons why being human is awesome and being a bird sucks.
Reason One: Leisure is sweet
Now it might look like being a bird is a pretty cruisy affair. It’s hard to see that they’re under much pressure to achieve much with their days.
Me, there’s an unusual noise coming from my rear tires, so I need to go and get that checked out. And then my wife’s birthday is coming up so I’ve got to think of a gift that is perfectly thoughtful without being overly contrived. And I’ve got this sense that our procurement systems at work could be better optimised, so I need to look into that at some point…
Uggh. So many headaches. Who wouldn’t be a bird?
But I think if you actually look at it, birds are pretty busy. There’s not a lot of idle time in a bird’s life.
And the same was true of humanity until pretty recently. The amount of free time and leisure we currently enjoy actually took a lot of engineering. It’s the result of a lot of factors working together to provide us with surround sound cinema’s and alfresco dining and entertainment quarters.
We lounge about and drink coffee on the shoulders of giants.
So humans are different. For the great majority of organisms on earth, they are slaves to their biological needs. If they have energy to spend then they spend it on eating, mating or nurturing the conditions that are conducive to eating and mating.
Like the birds and their singing. That might sound like a leisure activity, because we’ve made it into one, but for birds it actually serves particular purposes.
I actually transliterated some of the bird song in my garden and punched into Google Translate. This is what they were singing:
Oi you other birds.
Fek off,fek off, this is my shrub. These are my berries.
Fek offfek off, if you come around here I’ll go ya in the face.
Oi you lady-birds,
Come here, come here.
I’ve made a sweet-arse nest,
and my genes are conducive to successful reproduction.
Come here, come here. You know you want some.
You know you wantsooooome .
Bird poetics is actually quite under-developed.
But me, my poetic sensibilities are quite well developed actually, even though it’s not something I given much time to. And I’ve got so much surplus energy that I’ve actually got to come up with contrived ways to burn energy – like beating up a bag full of sand – otherwise I’d get fat and die.
The human capacity for leisure – and to be fair we are probably still talking about the west here. I guess I am talking about luxuries that many people in the developing world still aren’t able to enjoy – but that said, the human capacity for leisure is unprecedented in that natural kingdom.
There are activities you can engage in – activities that have absolutely no point other than the pleasure they provide. In the context of the million-year history of life on earth, this is unique.
And it’s something to be very grateful for.
Reason Two: Wonder is fun
I didn’t set out with the intention to just trash-talk little birds here, but how much is really going on in those little heads of theirs?
Are they pondering the mysteries of the cosmos? Are they getting tangled in the nuances of moral philosophy? Have any of them renounced a life of seeds and berries in pursuit of truth and meaning and liberating all of birdkind from the wheel of karma?
No, I don’t think so.
And that’s no moral failing on their part. I just don’t think they have the cognitive hardware to start approaching these kinds of questions.
But before we get all high and mighty and opposable- thumbsy , I think it’s important to remember that there’s some pretty hard limits on our cognitive hardware as well.
Just as maths is beyond the ken of birds, there have got to be things beyond the ken of human understanding. Most things probably.
And so we’ve been wanking on about philosophy and the good life for centuries, but where has it got us? Nowhere really. We don’t even have a coherent picture of the things we can see, let alone the great mysteries that are beyond the limits of our perception.
But… it’s been fun.
There’s a unique delight in being deliciously baffled. In feeling your mind get in the ring and dance around with things that it will never understand.
(What’s ‘outside’ the universe?)
It’s fun. It’s a leisure activity. And the name of that leisure activity is ‘wonder’.
Wonder is what happens when you get a sense of a mystery that you will never perceive.
It’s a beautiful thing.
And I think it might be a uniquely human experience.
Reason Three: Authorship is sexy
Imagine you were born as a bird. What life paths are available to you?
Within the limits of your biology, it doesn’t look like you have a lot of room to move.
You might choose to be an aggressive bird. Or you might choose to be a cooperative bird. You might decide that you’re going to stop chasing insects and focus on seeds.
But really, you’re probably not ‘choosing’ anything at all. You’re probably just following the behavioural coding in your DNA.
Now imagine a child born today. What life paths are available to them?
Well, at this point in history, there is a dizzying array of life paths on offer. They could do anything.
They could be a lawyer. Or they could be a marine biologist. Or they could be a ballerina. Or they could be a civil rights activist.
And they could live in Australia, or Austria or Antarctica. They could live in the city or the bush or on renovated bus touring through Siberia.
Heck, these days, we’re not even bound by our physiology. If I decided I wanted to spend a decade as a woman to see what it was like, that’s is medically available to me now.
There is an immense amount of choice on offer to people these days.
And that sets up a new game – a game where you get to follow your own truth, and become the author of your own life.
A game where you get to experiment. Where you get to taste life’s fruits and decide for yourself which ones you really like.
And it’s a game where you get to learn about yourself. You get to learn what you like and what you don’t like, and what life-calling really excites your spirit.
And it’s a game where you get to set the course. You get to choose your path and follow your own journey. You get to decide what it is you want and how you are going to achieve it.
What a fabulous game that is.
Of course some people are more free than others. But if you’re in Australia, with enough resources to read this on your phone, them I’m talking to you.
Being human is the opportunity to be the author of something completely wonderful.
How good is that?
Oh! I forgot one!
There’s three reasons that I’m very grateful to be human. Today, I am extremely grateful to be Jon Giaan, a human, alive at the most amazing and expansive time in history.
I give thanks.
And I don’t want to rub it in the bird’s faces or anything, but how good is it to also be at the top of the food chain? Can you imagine navigating the commute to work, always worried that something might be about to eat you?
How stressful would that be?
So yeah, nah , I don’t want to be a bird.
I’ll stick to being human thanks.
… until I master it.
– Jon Giaan