Recently, I watched an extraordinary documentary detailing the lives of various animals that populate Yellowstone National Park. The film makers took us through one year-four seasons with certain of these animals. It was remarkable to witness how they managed to survive what is often a harsh and unyielding venue. During a Yellowstone winter, the temperatures in the park drop down to -40 degrees below zero and several feet of snow fall makes food scarce indeed. Can you imagine anyone of us trying to survive such an ordeal annually? As I watched this film I considered the fear and foreboding that would come upon many of us as fall anticipates the dreaded winter. Yet the animals of Yellowstone seem to simply accept it as another condition of life.
While animals lack certain gifts deeded to humans such as free will, they none the less inform us in certain ways. In that respect, I have written about teachings that the animal world provides in my book, Humanity at Work; Encouraging Spirit, Achievement and Truth to Flourish in the Workplace (Chapel Hill Press 2008). In fact, one of my favorite essays in my book is about pelicans-you know the bird? After watching a pelican fish in the everglades I wrote the following,
“Of all I gained watching these birds, the most interesting insight was only tangentially related to the pelicans’ daring dives into shallow water. During the Outward Bound expedition, each of us spent a period of time alone on the shore of a heavenly wooded island. As I sat on the edge of the forest I was overcome with a sense of great serenity. It was as though the sounds of the forest had been entrusted solely to my ears. Shortly after my arrival, a pelican began to fish near the shore. On its first dive the bird was successful.
The pelican began to swallow the fish, and I thought how events in life can leave us feeling like the fish when the pelican disrupted its afternoon. What if the fish had the capacity to reason and comprehend what occurred? It most assuredly would cry foul! Instinctively, fish recognize sudden changes in their universe, applying their keen senses to avoid attack by known predators. But in the drama I witnessed, the fish was preyed upon by one from a totally uncharted realm! A parallel universe. As counsel for the fish, I would want to argue that the bird did not play by the rules. But then again, the bird doesn’t know the rules. Moreover, the fish has no recourse. When, I would ask, was the last time a fish ate a bird? How could there be recourse?
Is our existence any different? When a huge problem dives into our lives, it was hardly ever on our radar screen, was it? “
When I speak, I remind folks that the essence of suffering is wanting things to be different than they are. Basically you have two options- it may be possible to change the situation in which you find yourself, but if you can’t, recognize that you have the free will to decide how you will react to whatever problem has come upon you.
It may be the work of a lifetime, but learn not to expend precious emotional capital worrying about some non-descript predator that may pounce upon your well being. It’s a waste of time worrying about that guy! If it could I am sure the fish in my story would agree, and remind you that more often it’s the pelican that dives unannounced into your life. And no amount of worry will keep that from happening.