I am astounded everyday when I look out toward our feeding table in the backyard and witness remarkable interactions between animals that have no business being near one another . . . or so it would seem. A doe and her two fawns have been frequenting the feeding area over the past couple of months. We have watched the fawns’ spots disappear as the summer light turns toward orange and the tidal marsh awakens with a different kind of life– the changing of the seasons and the vast movement of birds in the night sky. I learned recently from my spouse, who is a model to me of playful curiosity, that birds mostly migrate at night and that there are literally millions of them flying in the dark, out of sight, every night. Which is astounding in and of itself. But what happens on the ground at night is also remarkable.
One evening a mother skunk and her baby waddled up to the feeding table while the deer were busy picking up black oil sunflower seeds with their delicate lips. The skunks and deer were apparently unconcerned with each other, neither aggressing nor running away. One of the fawns suddenly looked over at the baby skunk, who was edging closer to her position at the feeding table. The fawn also began to edge closer to the skunk. It seemed as if she became quite curious, like a child at play, about this small, oddly shaped creature with a white stripe. Ann and I were watching this scene with a mix of enthusiasm and concern that the fawn might get too close, startle the skunk and then we would have to suffer the consequences of the spray that would ensue. But the fawn simply watched and took the baby skunk’s skunkness in. The doe moved off and the fawn followed. No spray ensued.
This gentle, non-judgmental, non-aggressive curiosity is one quality of mindful awareness. In Coming Closer to Ourselves: Making Everything a Path of Awakening, Buddhist nun, Pema Chöron talks about this quality of curiosity as a foundation of Buddhist practice and a powerful tool for making friends with our discomfort and what we judge to be negative in ourselves and our lives. Over the years, as I have deepened my understanding and practice of mindfulness, I have come to appreciate curiosity in this way. When I enter into a moment of curious attention, like the fawn at the feeding table, I experience a spaciousness where both enthusiasm and concern melt away and what is left is a fawn and a skunk, a truly odd couple – like comfort and discomfort– being themselves, together in the world, and at peace.
Copyright 2013, Patricia A Burke