Of Swallows and Attachment


How much of our life is spent on attachment? On wanting good things to stay? On holding tightly? On wanting what is good not to end? I posted recently about swallows on the lake near my apartment. These swallows are one of my joys in life. They are active much of the day, but especially in the evening, when they dive and swoop about catching insects in the air and just above the surface of the water.

via itsnature.org
via itsnature.org

Just imagine them in the golden hour as the sun is going down, chasing each other around and over the lake. They move quickly and are so agile in flight that they can dive and shift directions in an instant, which is part of what makes them so fascinating to watch. If you stand on one of the bridges over the lake, the swallows come in so close flying over, under, and along the bridge. This makes it easier to actually see them, and the little birds are just beautiful! Elegant forked tails, orange-y bellies, deep sparkling blue backs. As near as I can tell, there are  two or three types: barn swallows, cliff swallows, and maybe tree swallows, but I’m a very amateur birdwatcher, so there could be other species that I can’t identify.

I love to walk around the lake and pause frequently to watch the swallows doing acrobatics in the golden beams. It is so idyllic and so beautiful that I want more and more. I want to see the birds more closely; I want to capture it-- not capture a bird, but the whole scene and the whole feeling of it-- the light, the gentle breeze, the smell of lake, and the graceful flight. I have tried on many occasions to do so-- using binoculars to try to watch the birds up close (they are much too fast for this to work), making a video on my phone (somehow they are as small as specks and not at all impressive), and taking photo upon photo of nothing much, since they fly quickly past the frame as I tap, tap, tap.

I wonder about this urge to keep, hold, capture. I don’t want to demonize it-- sometimes the urge is simply to be able to share the moment and the beauty with others. Taking photos of things can seem distracting, but it sometimes is another form of mindfulness-- taking note of a flower, coming in close to it, catching it in just the right light. But at the same time, I can see how attachment robs some of the joy from a moment. The moment that I turn from, “oh how lovely as I watch these amazing creatures!” to “jeez, why are they so fast, why can’t I capture what I’m seeing?!” is a moment that makes a tight, swallow-like dive from joy and wonder to annoyance and disappointment.

Does anyone else know this swoop away from joy? How about, “Oh how peaceful to be camping!” and immediately after, “We need to do this more regularly. What’s wrong with us that we love to camp and haven’t done it in a year?!” Or “The weekend was so relaxing!” and then “Why can’t we have just one more day?!” Basically, “I have got something precious!” followed by “More! I want more of it, and I don’t want it to end!” Reduce it like that, and it seems childish, like a kid who doesn’t want to go to bed.

I want to observe this instinct in me, with the hope of not always moving so quickly to attachment. To see my joy swinging in midair and to simply watch it, to note it and appreciate it, perhaps even appreciate it more for the knowledge that it cannot be held down. I’ve decided that from now on, the swallows are flying just for me (and whoever else happens to be there in the flesh). I’ll stand still in wonder, nothing more. This is a precious occurrence, and no more will I turn wonder to disappointment through attachment...at least where swallows are concerned.