Practice Zen Like a Pelican

I love watching the brown pelicans that winter on the Mexican Pacific coast. They strike me as the most Zen of birds. They rarely chatter or squawk; they spend much of the day in apparent mindfulness observing the ocean with an intense unwavering gaze. They appear to be masters of the state of being. Penguins like to sit in community on rocky perches overlooking the ocean; perhaps it’s a version of pelican ashram. They also spend time bobbing up and down on the ocean looking as though they do not have a care in the world, rising and falling with the waves, silent, perhaps contemplating totally ay ease in their marine surroundings. And then they fly. Sometimes cruising serenely in flocks, forming a line like Canada Geese, surveying from on high and on other times they perform a sublime dance with the ocean, skimming the face of the sea mere inches from the surface, following the contour of the waves in a graceful, effortless manner. They resemble surfers, finding the barrel as it crests over their heads then adjusting their path ever so slightly to avoid being dumped by the breaking wave.
After hours of observing the dynamics of their behaviour it becomes clear that the art of being is all in preparation for the doing that inevitably follows. Once gathered in large numbers, sitting on the ocean, bobbing mindfully in expectation and waiting, quietly and expectantly for the climax of the ensuing drama. Once pelicans begin to feed the pursuit of prey is dramatic, fast moving and exhilarating. They soar to about twenty feet above the ocean, pick out a target and throw themselves into a dive, pointed bill stretched forward, wings outstretched, looking somewhat like a miniature prehistoric pterodactyl, hitting the water with a splash but closing their wings at impact. They rarely miss, a quick stretch of the neck and the fish slides into the belly. Then a few seconds pause and the act is repeated again and again. Feeding can become frenzy, pelicans soaring, wheeling, diving, splashing and swallowing as many as five times a minute. It is hard to believe that they can put away so many fish in what appears to be a fairly small torso. Then it stops and they return to mindfulness again.
I think the pelican is a great reminder for how life can be lived. To practice the simple art of being, staying fully mindful of our every moment and ready to fully engage when the time is right. Out of mindfulness emerges the direction for our lives. Then we focus all our skills and attributes on being the best we can. Pelicans do not seem to be competitive. They sit, swim and fly in harmonious groups and when feeding each does his own thing. I never saw one pelican compete aggressively with a fellow. If only we could say the same.


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