April 12, 2015

DAY 151: A Pigeon and World Peace: Conflict resolution in real-time

An unexpected event has been assisting me over the last week to understand two things clearer in my mind about conflict towards something or someone: firstly, that I fear that which I don't know and look for excuses in my mind to validate the fear, and secondly that the fear dissipates when I get to know the "other" side and my whole behaviour changes, from rejection to equality, empathy and compassion.

Last Friday, on his way to a meeting my husband saw a little pigeon outside the house and told me to check him out. All I could see was a dark thing that had nowhere to go and in me I saw someone that had no idea what to do. I had been given the instructions to check him out but I could not even hold him! I could not stay outside the whole day so I decided to get my thick gloves and try to hold him - one thing I was sure: under my attention he would not be caught by the cat that was already on his way. So with my super gloves I got him out of that hostile environment and brought the little one home. If initially in my mind I was the victim of such a bad luck, now I was defending him in the name of Life. There was a massive contradiction within me: if on one hand I could sympathise with his position, on the other hand my backchat was telling me that it was dangerous to have a pigeon at home. I had no clue what to do and I was shaking inside - I was with a bird that I judged as dirty, smelly, probably sick, ugly and useless. This was my mind speaking but at the same time I could not leave him outside.  After two attempts of putting him to fly outside and seeing him struggling with the cold and not being able to fly, I decided to open my harms to this new unexpected guest. I called my husband asking for help and what he said to me was crucial: "Put yourself in his place and treat him as you would like to be treated".
So how could a pigeon assist me to grasp this? Well, the details of the experience are as relevant as the realisations thereof, but the important thing here is to see that the experience of familiarity and stability in the presence of another being can happen even when initially there is resistance to accept another's existence. Sadly, this often happens only when the circumstances force us to face the inner fears and when there's no choice rather than to change in real-time, step by step.

The little one that I once thought to be dirty, smelly, probably sick, ugly and useless became my best reference point of self-change. On the second day I stopped wearing my gloves and I could feel his soft feathers for the first time, I could appreciate his smell without judging it, I could look at him as who he is - a breathing being in this world just like me. The former experience of disgust was transformed into a constant caring, attention and dedication that has gradually grown. I gave him the space to know me and he trusted walking on my hands, the same hands that have tried to put him outside twice to fly away. I then realised that his life was dependent on me to feed him and that I was not giving up on this responsibility - this decision had ripple effects and empowered me to not accept other giving-up thoughts in other areas of my life. With this we have been supporting each other, each one in his own process here.

We notice a considerable change in him, from being depressed and in a state of hopelessness, to now being curious about everything, walking around new places in the house, opening his eyes completely and being physically stronger. He can now fly higher as well (luckily we have high ceilings in the house!) and once he is able to eat by himself we will see if he is ready to fly outside.

My husband and I are fully dedicated to this mission and the young pigeon is responding well. We give him food regularly as he does not yet eat by himself, (we test different mixtures of seeds, vegetables and bread to make sure he has all the nutrients), we watch videos on youtube and read forums about pigeon-care, we took him to the vet, we do flying sessions in the living room, we walk with him around the house (he is very social and likes to be with people), we wake up earlier than usual to feed him before work, we try to do shifts of working from home so that he is not alone during the whole day, we place him in areas where he can get direct sunlight in the house, we talk to him and stroke him. Another important element is to have a stress-free environment (for him and for us!).

The timing of this experiment couldn't be better as I am currently writing my dissertation on conflict resolution and investigating the neurological and psychological mechanisms involved in the perceptions of the "we" and the "other", the fear responses, the distrust and the dehumanisation of the out-group. By bringing this point to myself, I can now see that I saw the pigeon species as less than my species, as not worthy of living in the same city or even sheltering on my roof. When I look deeper into this resistance towards pigeons I see memories that have shaped this continuous separation - the childhood memory of being in the park in Paris and getting my trousers dirty with pigeon poop; the image from the movie Mary Poppins where the bird lady is in a dark setting, surrounded by pigeons that cover her and walk on her hat; the memory of when I was maybe three years old and used to go Avenida da Liberdade in Lisbon to give bread to the pigeons and I was scared of them and also tried to scare them away. In my mind I have associated pigeons with darkness, dirt, bad smell, confusion, poverty and irritation. I had no reference of anything else but separation.

But none of that prevented me from saving this little one. Who I am now and who I want to become cannot accept such inequality anymore. Over the last week I created the opportunity to redefine my relationship towards this pigeon and pigeons in general, to move from "them" to the "we", together sharing the same roof and the air we breathe. The simplicity of this micro-experience in my life can be projected into the societal and international divisions between people that define themselves as enemies, as opposites and as a threat to one's existence. Peace and reconciliation is possible, and it starts from within by living out the words we want to see manifested in this world, such as peace, understanding, respect, growth, equality

Finally, there was also the physical aspect of the pigeon - it is apparently not as expressive as a dog or a cat and at first sight pigeons have an intimidating look. It's a human habit to judge the book by its cover and missing much of what is here in this life and world. If I had never accepted this change in me I would have never seen the delicate presence of a pigeon, the preening movements to clean his feather, his response to sounds, his begging for food, his patience, his curiosity and his every-day discoveries.

So what changed since last week? I did. He did. We got to know each other and created a mutually supportive environment, where I give him that which he is unable to provide for himself and he assists me to be present here as nature. The giving and receiving approach is a practical way of living the word Peace, as perfectly explain on the Consciousness of the Dove interview, where peace exists when I become Peace and live as it in everything I do - in this case, through treating another as I would like to be treated and in recreating supportive relationships and a new way of existing within myself, with others and with the world as a whole.

Recommended Interview: 

The Consciousness of the Dove - Part 1,2,3

What does it mean to become and live the word ‘peace’?
Why is it not enough to desire peace as a way of manifesting it?
Why is it not so much your intentions, ideas and thoughts that influence your body, but your beingness?
Why are many people not aware of their beingness?


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