December 13, 2004

Flocking Behavior

Think of your mind not as a single entity but as a flock—a flock of birds. They move together spontaneously, clustered tightly without any physical connection, transmitting signals in a flash of wing, a tip of beak. The flock rises on a curve, slanting over a road or a telephone wire, swelling and flattening in response to air currents, angles of momentum, gravity. One bird takes the lead, then it tires and another comes to the fore, as the flock's path writes itself on the sky, exquisitely balanced between constraint and freedom. No telling what other routes it might have improvised given a different lead bird at a certain moment, a different gust of wind over a certain rooftop. Each turn, once made, is irrevocable, but everything afterward is left open.
This practice you're so proud of—this enlightenment you're so keen on reaching—is only one bird in the flock, or at most maybe a few bird–neighbors flying together in one corner. Every so often it's this bird's turn to lead the flock, and then the whole group mind turns in that direction. But after a while, a twitch of feather shows fatigue—you let air pressure push you back, while one of your flockmates surges toward the front—and you're chasing some other creature's glimpse of shadow.
The flock knows where to go. Fly within it. Accept the shifts and turns. If you strain against its direction you'll peel off alone, lost, beating vainly to catch up. Just wait for your turn to lead. And consider that someone else's lead may take you there faster than you yourself would have gotten.