The Surprising Lesson from a Woodpecker
Chapter Seven: How We Create Our Own Limitations
In any given moment, we are experiencing the feeling of our thoughts, and not external circumstances. Not just sometimes. Only always.
We have absolute freedom of mind but we don’t know it. Because we are not in control of anything, we give ourselves the illusion of control. We make up limits for ourselves. We believe the limits are true and we forget that we made them up in the first place. We live our lives by those same self-imposed limits, and the limits end up making us unhappy. We create a premise about our life, operate by the rules of the premise, then wonder why we feel confined. We are funny creatures.
A few examples of popular premises that we construct and abide by: making money is hard work. I'm not a planner. I'm not a go-with-the-flow-type. Marriage is challenging. Or, marriage is rewarding. Having kids is stressful. Raising children is the source of all happiness. I'm way too old, or much too young, to take that course, job, or trip of a lifetime.
Whatever premise we choose to live by, that premise becomes how we see the world. We live inside the glass walls of our premises, thinking that the walls are solid. But the walls are made of air, of ether, of our thoughts. The walls crumble like sugar glass when you touch them.
Last spring, there was a female Pileated Woodpecker nesting in a dead tree just outside our kitchen window. For about a week, she knocked on our window incessantly, tapping and pecking at the window for about 5 minutes straight, then would fly back to her nest to take a short break. Perhaps to grab some Gatorade? I don't know, it seemed like exhausting work.
After a short rest, she would come back to the window tap-tap-tapping away. This behavior continued for 5 days. Thankfully, woodpeckers are not nocturnal and this was a day-time activity.
The woodpecker was living under the premise that there was something in our house she wanted. Was it the little red figurine in the windowsill? The glass jar holding wine corks? Was it us? We didn’t know. We cleaned everything off the kitchen counters that the woodpecker could possibly want. And still she came, still she tapped.
When we are operating unknowingly under a premise, it’s kind of like knocking on a window expecting it to be a door. Let’s say the premise is “building my business has to be hard”. Unconsciously, I will do all of the things to make building my business hard. I will take on too many clients, or not advertise, or send mixed messages to my people, or not deliver good content. All unknowingly, unconsciously, because I am living under this self-imposed premise. It’s like tapping on the window for five days and not getting in the house.
The solution is really easy. Either, stop tapping on the window or find another way in. Find a new premise. Better yet, see that the premise is not real and allow for moment to moment wisdom to arrive and guide us.
Let’s explore another example from nature.
My dog, Tazzy, once got quilled by a porcupine. She had about 20 quills in her snout. Every time I tried to remove a quill she would jerk her head in the other direction, not letting me help her. It was obvious that the quills were painful.
Some quills were lodged loosely, and I was able to sneak attack from the side and remove those quills fairly easily. Then, there were the quills that were directly in the front of her snout, just under her nose and above her mouth. Those quills were in deep, lodged in tight. Because they were in the front of her face, I could not sneak attack remove them from the side. I had gotten it down to 5 quills left in her snout and I called the vet to help remove the rest.
When I began to see my own premises that I had been unknowingly living under, it was a lot like removing the porcupine quills. Some were only loosely lodged in my brain and were fairly easy to remove. I was able to spot false premises like “I’m not cut out for business” or “I don’t like networking events” and see through the facade of those statements. I saw how they were just holding me back or keeping me safe. I let them go easily.
Then, there were the premises that were lodged in pretty tight, right in the front of my snout. These were the deeper premises that I had learned and taken on from childhood, unwittingly, that had shaped the way I see the world.
Some sticky premises for me were around money. It took me a long time not to see money as evil. I had so many beliefs around money, some even contradicted each other. For example, “you have to work hard for your money” and “some people are just born with money”. “You should give away all of your money” and “smart people save their money”.
Those quills were in there pretty tight. But once I started to unravel them and see them as individual quills, and not one giant porcupine, they loosened. Eventually, they just fell right out. I didn’t even have to go to the vet to remove them.
How do we remove our premises? We just start looking in that direction. Change comes from new seeing. There is actually nothing to do. We simply drop into the space before the premise arose, the space of no thing, the space of quiet and peace within.