Scritch scritch scritch!!!
I look up from my laptop and sigh. Here we go again. This is the umpteenth starling that has flown down our chimney and gotten stuck in the yoga studio fireplace. I can hear the poor guy banging about inside the stove, chattering in panic.
This bird retrieval sequence is standard by now. Open both doors. Grab the broom. Cover my head with a towel. Pray.
Luckily, my stove is a top loader. I take a deep breath, lean my head away from the opening, and quickly flip the top open. The starling flies straight out at my face, causing me to shriek and duck. Then he zooms straight toward the clerestory window, 9 feet above the floor and too far away for me to help him.
Of course he does. They always do. I watch in consternation as he beats his wings uselessly against the glass, terrified and screaming. I grab the broom and try to shoo him towards the open door to no avail. I scare him more; the bird dive-bombs the window even more ferociously.
He doesn’t see that the glass is simply an illusion, doesn’t realize that freedom lies less than a few feet away. His stubborn refusal to try a different tack will be his ruin.
I can’t blame him. After all, no one does obstinate and obtuse better than human beings. We get stuck in the same perpetual patterns; get caught up in our routines of work, exercise, diet, and parenting. The patterns range from the small, like taking the same route to work day after day, to the larger, more harmful, like always falling for an emotionally unavailable partner. Over time, these patterns feel more like a rut and less like freedom. These patterns of habit and thought are called samskara in the yoga world. It’s Einstein’s famous definition of insanity: we do the same things on loop but doggedly insist the result will be different this time.
We respond to a situation exactly the same way each time and never grow, end up making the same mistakes over and over and over. It’s why 95% of people who lose weight gain it back, why it takes most people years in therapy to work through their repetitive, self-sabotaging behaviors. Constant, unchanging narratives rule our days.
I’m too fat.
I’m too old.
I’ll never be happy.
My life will always be a window and never a door.
We can blame it on our brains. Remember the Golden Rule of neuroscience? Neurons that fire together wire together. Our gray matter loves predictability and doubles down on any pattern it can. So all of our habits – be they good ones or harmful ones – become our default setting.
Our brain tells us to keep beating our wings against that glass. When it doesn’t work? We beat harder, shriek louder, then feel victimized and persecuted. The only way out is to consider our goal from a fresh angle. What you tried yesterday lead to to your current situation. If the situation isn’t desirable, perhaps it’s time for a different approach?
Look around for a new perspective. If the poor bird would just turn his gaze a little, he would see blue sky that isn’t trapped behind a glass barrier.
I walk out the door and start singing. Finally, I grab his attention to the other blue sky. He zips through the open door and sails to freedom. I clap and smile. Bon voyage little buddy.