Education / Executive Coaching & Leadership / Health & Fitness / Inspirational

A Lesson From a Bird

Sam Morris is the founder of Zen Warrior Training. In 1999, just after leading a bicycling trip for nine teenagers across the United States, Sam was in a car accident caused by a drunk driver which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Years of struggle from his condition forced him to experience over a dozen surgeries and to lie down flat on his back for over three years, two of which were in hospitals. Determined to not become the victim of his circumstances, Sam learned and created a system of mental and physical training based in Zen philosophy, meditation and somatic disciplines that healed his mind and body and brought him more vitality and clarity than he had before his injury. He created Zen Warrior Training as a means by which to inspire and teach people how to go beyond their limiting experiences and discover what's possible for their lives. Sam is a keynote speaker, workshop facilitator and individual and group life coach. 

The other day, while I was enjoying a cup of tea, a bird flew in my front door and landed on my desk. Behind the desk is a large window, but it was closed and had a screen on it. The bird made several futile attempts to go back to the great outdoors, but the invisible window kept getting in its way. I came over to offer some assistance, and by the time I did, the bird’s level of stress was beginning to show. As I reached my hand out and attempted to grab it, it became even more stressed. I managed to wrap my hand around the little bird and carefully escorted it back to the door through which it had arrived. In one last effort to escape, it wrangled its way out of my grasp and fell on the doorstep. But upon getting up unscathed, it took back its rightful place in the sky. 

The bird brought with it a message that I would like to share. If I had not been able to help it, it would very likely have spent the rest of its life attempting to escape through the closed window. Here there was all this light right in front of it. Clearly, that was the open space it was used to flying around freely in. But why couldn’t it get back to the open space? The more attempts it made to get to the open space, the more panicked it became. Despite all evidence that this should work, every attempt failed. Had this gone on for a few more hours (or days), the bird’s energy would’ve been drained and it likely would have eventually died, even though the open door was just a few feet away. 

How often in life do we act just like this little bird? It is so easy to try to tackle a problem using what seems to be a sensible solution only to end up getting nowhere and feeling confused and stressed out. But it’s easy to try to persist anyway, doing the same old thing over and over and adding to the anxiety. Meanwhile, the open door is right there, staring us in the face. All we have to do is stop banging our heads against the window and look for another opening. 

Human minds frequently act just like this bird’s mind. We go with the first obvious solution without fully studying the consequences. When it doesn’t work, we try again and achieve the same result, only with more stress. In order to not get perpetually stuck, someone with a more expanded perspective needs to come along, scoop us up, and redirect us towards the opening. But we will likely resist this help, feeling like it’s an attack. Our defenses may tell us that we know the best way out. The person who is moving us may or may not treat us with a gentle touch. While the opening might be obvious to whomever is redirecting us, it’s not obvious to us. What’s obvious to us is that there’s something that appears to be an opening but that is not working the way that it ought to. After desperately trying to escape our helper’s grasp, we may finally allow ourselves to be redirected to the opening. And as we fly away free, frequently we don’t even look back to acknowledge the helper. 

This is why we need teams in our lives, friends, colleagues and learning partners who have a broader perspective on certain things than we do. If we allow ourselves to stop, breathe and reassess the situation, there is always an opening just one pivot away.