Nature vs. Nurture

About 3 weeks ago, a mockingbird family took up residence in the jasmine arbor that surrounds our front stoop. We looked on with delight as Mama flew back and forth between the nest and the crepe myrtle trees along the steps, and listened to the little nestlings’ funny cries right outside our front windows—like a squeaky swingset: EE-aw EE-aw . . .

We cleared out fast when she seemed to think we might be lingering a minute too long on the step . . . her (or were they Dad’s?) threatening displays of chest-puffing, wing-beating, and strident vocalizing were clues that were hard to miss.

Today the birdbabies reached a milestone: instead of the wobbly beaks we’d been seeing wavering up from the nest as we passed by, we saw actual feathered birds, perched on the edge…

I was grateful the nest hung over our soft green lawn—having witnessed some less forgiving fledgling situations in Brooklyn. Like . . . Fledgling Situations—with poor, puny birdlings lurching across the sidewalk while hungry dogs looked on . . .

Good Lord these babies on our porch were cute—they had this funny, wispy hairdo I’ve never seen on a bird before . . .

For a couple of days we marinated in joy and dread in equal measure: would there be a Fledgling Situation?

I tried to practice isvara pranidhanam—total surrender of my individual will to some greater Will (see Yoga Sutras, II:45)

I repeated the mantra:It is not up to me to raise these birds. Thy will be done.”

But I knew from experience it was likely there would be a few hiccups before the little guys were successfully launched from their nest . . .

The days passed without incident. No attempted launchings. No need for me to do anything about them . . . until:

Tonight I was leaving the house around 7pm, when something caught my eye on the corner of the bottom step–

OH NO!!!

A dead birdbaby. Flattened against the bricks, on its side, scrawny, scaly legs pulled in, eyes closed . . .

Setting aside my evening plans, I went back inside for a soft cloth, planning to wrap the poor thing and bury it in the back yard But when I picked it up, I felt life–


A tiny silent pulsating.

Its mouth opened and closed noiselessly (no more squeaky swing set.)

I held it to my breast, whispering soothing nothings (even singing, at one point, the same poignant lullaby I had sung to my daughter when she, too, was a scrawny newborn teetering on the precipice of life) until I could find the key to the garage and bring out the tall ladder.

I put the baby back in the nest (inciting no small degree of distress amongst its birdbrothers and sisters) And . . . hoped for the best.

I know nature does its own thing, and I know better (usually) than to interfere.

But, damn it, nature is not always kind. In fact, nature can be kind of a heartless bitch.

What was I going to do? Just walk on past the sad little pile of feathers on my very own doorstep and pretend I hadn’t seen it? Clearly not.

So, in spite of my mantra, I got involved.

I pray the critter is okay in there tonight, nestled back with its maybe-not-so-friendly siblings (I read somewhere that the stronger baby birds will sometimes push the runt out of the nest. Ya know, Darwin and all . . .but, Darwin be darned, I was there and I saw that little runt on the bricks and I could not un-see it.)

These birds, God love them, did not choose to build their nest off in the forest somewhere. They chose to build it in my front doorway, right here in one of the more urban areas of Savannah. So if nasty old nature was going to take her course, I was going to be part of that course.

Isvara pranidhanam. Thy will be done.

I, too, as the birds, am part of the fabric of nature. And if it is indeed true that only we humans enjoy free will, not to mention opposable thumbs (not sure how Mama Bird would have lifted her kid back into the nest . . . )

Let’s use it. Not to contravene nature, but maybe, once in a while, to be the deus ex machina—perhaps even the agents of miracle? where we see that we might.


And Namaste,


First You Fall, Then You Fly

In the window at Lululemon

In the window at Lululemon

Thanks to all who participated in the OM Yoga in a Box Giveaway, and congratulations to the winner–Vera!  May it enhance your home practice.

I took a workshop last weekend called “Flightasana–I Believe I Can Fly”.  It was on inversions and arm balances.

These families of poses ain’t for sissies. Not because they are physically challenging, though they are, to be sure.  But even more, they challenge our sense of what we can and can’t do.

They can be scary, and they do demand strength. I used to think it was arm strength (not my forte), but now I think it is more strength from the core.  “Core”–that much-overused word–loosely refers to abdominal strength, but really denotes all those muscles that support the spine (hint:  it’s 3-D!).  These muscles are definitely important in inversions and arm balances.  But here I use it to mean something even deeper than that, even more central and essential.  Something that isn’t even entirely physical.  A voice from far down inside that says, “I can do this.”

Because, as Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”   In other words, if you think you can’t, you’re finished.  Thinking you can is a prerequisite (even if you turn out to have been wrong).

These poses are about working with fear and doubt as much as they are about strength and balance.  They ask you to look at your fears head on, and say, “Thanks for your input, but I’m doing this anyway.”  Even if it seems crazy.  Even if it seems you have no business trying to do what you are doing.  Even if you have never managed to do it before.  Even if you might fall.

I actually fall pretty often in yoga class, but not out of inversions.  When going upside down I am careful–too careful, I began to think, to really be exploring the poses completely.  So I asked a teacher once if there is a proper way to fall out of a headstand.  He seemed to think it a weird question, but it was an important one to me; I wanted to feel less fear and more freedom, and it seemed knowing how to fall was key.

If I am confident I can fall with minimal chances of hurting myself, then it’s a lot easier to leave the ground.  Maybe it should have been obvious how.  It wasn’t.  Maybe wanting to know is hedging.  Maybe it’s just good sense and an instinct for self-preservation . . . Whatever the case may be, knowing how to fall, I can honor that instinct, and then take off.

What’s the worst that can happen?  I’ll be on the floor.  Same place I’d be if I’d stayed curled up in a little ball, too afraid to go up.  It will be different, though, because I will have flown, maybe just for an instant.  The more I am willing to risk, the stronger those muscles of courage and faith will get.

The question “What if I fall?” can keep you paralyzed forever.  Take it as a given, and learn how to fall.  Then you can fly!

P.S.  Stay tuned to the blog for some video footage of falling–coming soon!