Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bird brains and fear

Yesterday afternoon I was relaxing outside on our patio, just content to look out at the woods and the sky. At some point a female cardinal swooped in, low under the bird feeder, and landed in the grass below. She sat motionless for a minute, looking at me, sizing me up.

She soon began to crane her neck every which way, turning perhaps 10 or 15 times before occasionally ducking into the grass for a peck at the seed that had spilled from the freshly filled feeder. I wondered why she didn't just fly up onto the feeder, which would seem a much safer perch from which to eat, but then I remembered that I had been so remiss lately in filling it that her expectations were probably pretty low.

I watched her for maybe two minutes, amazed at the amount of energy it must have taken for her to consume just a few morsels. I started thinking about stress, and the toll it can take on our lives. I have no idea what the life span of a cardinal is, but I'm guessing it isn't very long.

She left as abruptly as she had arrived, and a male cardinal swiftly took her place. Her mate, perhaps? He, however, perched immediately on the feeder, though his nervous gyrations were much the same.

Stress in our lives can take many forms, but watching these two birds made me think of fear in particular. I had just read an excellent post about positive thinking by Jack Canfield in the Huffington Post. Canfield had summarized fear so simply that I found it brilliant: "Fear is self-created by focusing on something in the future that hasn't happened yet." And, more to the point, will very likely never happen.

I once read a book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, and although I don't remember much of the book, I do remember the author making the claim that 90 percent of all of our fears never come to pass. I don't recall what kind of research she had to back up that claim, but if it's even half true, it's still pretty comforting.

Oh sure, there will be those doomsayers who say, "Well what about the 10 percent?" But think about it: If you thought you had a 9-in-10 chance of winning the lottery, you'd be rushing to buy a ticket, right? Yet how often do we shy away from trying something based on our 1-in-10 chance of whatever it is we fear?

"Without risk, there can be no reward." I came across that sentence recently in a horoscope. I generally don't read horoscopes and this particular one wasn't even mine, but that line caught my eye. Again, it was one of those simplistic but insightful statements.

I smiled as I watched the cardinals, thinking of the things I wouldn't have today if I had succumbed to my fears: a loving relationship, a nice home, and memories of trips taken to beautiful and interesting places and friendships made along the way.

The pair of cardinals in our backyard may or may not have had only a 1-in-10 chance of being snagged by our neighbor's cat, a hunting machine if there ever was one, but their hypervigilance has no doubt evolved because it has served the species well over time.

But what about our own vigilance, our own caution? What are we so afraid of?

Are we ourselves the potential enemy we fear?

1 comment:

  1. They were probably on the look out for a squirrel or some other animal, in fear of losing their meal.

    Stress does make us to some strange things, though.