I first started what I now realize is meditation (being present in the moment) when I had a canary. I was single at the time, between marriages. I wanted to find/create a strategy that would remind me to stop and breathe and appreciate.
I was working multiple jobs, finishing grad school, and it felt like I was always a few hours behind, not days or weeks, just a few hours, three or four, ten at the most. That would catch me up and then I could stop and take a breath.
I don’t remember when the AHA came, but it was something like this. “Maybe I’ve got it backward. Maybe I need to take a breath first… how do I do that?”
I wanted a reminder that would be random but not startling. Ideally it would be joyful or inviting, outside my control, and something that would happen throughout the day. What?
I didn’t want to have to plan it or program it into a device. I wanted it to happen in the real world, and when it did, I’d stop and take a breath and another breath, and I’d remember to be alive instead of losing life in the busyness.
I’d been identifying these criteria (though not that consciously or coherently) and I’d actively searched for a strategy for days. One morning when I was getting breakfast my canary started to sing. If you’ve ever been in a room with it, you know that a canary full volume is LOUD. You only hear canary sized peep peeps when he’s warming up. Full volume he could fill the Albert Hall. “I’m a soprano and proud of it.”
So that became the meditation practice. When Oscar started to sing, the rule was that I would stop and listen. If I were cooking, I’d turn off the burner. If I were working on something, I’d stop what I was doing. Talking on the phone, say goodbye, reading, put down the book.
There were times when he’d sing for over two minutes. At the time, over 30 years ago, that was a long session for me, a long time to be fully present. But after only a few weeks I found that I’d stop instantaneously and slip into a place of wonder, awe, a different state. You know what I mean.
His song was a strong anchor. I’d try to follow the complex tune, not knowing which way it was going. Oscar’s guided meditations led me to pure curiosity, pure mindful presence. My thoughts would wander, but then I’d return to the song. So I honor you, Oscar the canary, my first serious meditation teacher, my first guru. Thank you for your teaching.
Guru Oscar also indirectly led me to a Canary Singing Competition, but that’s another story.