By John Lee Pendall
Kurt Cobain said, “Birds scream at the top of their lungs in horrified hellish rage every morning at daybreak to warn us all of the truth, but sadly we don’t speak bird.”
I don’t know about you, but I tend to be skeptical someone’s philosophy if they end up blowing their own brains out with a shotgun. It’s not that I think he’s wrong—because who knows?—it’s just that I’ve got to wonder if his views are useful for the living. I only care about truth if it’s a useful truth; if it can be used to help us cope with suffering or do something meaningful. Truth without purpose is just thought, and thinking without purpose is dangerous.
My morning routine has me stepping outside with a cup of black, paint-peeling dark roast. I stand on the top step, or sit in a lawn chair, sipping rocket fuel while listening to the birds. They definitely make a wall of noise, so I can see how Cobain interpreted it as a hellish screaming. But the only truth I got from the moment was the truth of them being there, and me being there with them.
Kurt was reading into it too much. He was filling in the blanks with himself—with his own despair. Life’s an inkblot; instead of believing what we see, we see what we believe. We’re born believing because we’re born with certain temperaments and dispositions that use to interpret everything we experience.
Our meanings are our own. The inherent meaning of birdsong is that it’s birdsong. That’s how basic presence is presenting itself to us in that moment.
If I can just let it be that, if I can take it at face value, then all the baggage I put into it gets left at the airport. Meaning isn’t static, it’s an action. It’s simple, dynamic, and only relevant for a moment. But if we fill our lives with meaningful moments, then we’ve just created a meaningful life, and that means we’ve crafted ourselves a meaningful death as well.
It’s sad that Cobain couldn’t hear the meaning of birdsong, of footsteps on hardwood floors or the smell of autumn mornings. He was stuck in his head, fighting demons that had no reality of their own. Mind makes it real. Mind turns that inkblot into something and then writes it a biography. To uncover some authentic meaning—meaning that isn’t forced onto us by nature-nurture—we’ve got to hear through the noise to the birdsong.
Birdsong as it is, not as we believe it to be.
The truth of birdsong is that it’s there, and then it isn’t—that’s impermanence. It moved from the birds, and then moved something in me. It’ll keep moving that way. Now it’s with you, and it’ll move you in some way. Nothing moves on its own—that’s emptiness. Nothing has its own motion or its own power.
What we do have is choice—the ability to choose how, or if something moves us. Cobain let the birds move him into shadows, because shadows are what he believed in. What do you believe in? Choose carefully, because it will be your reality. It’ll turn that birdsong into screams of rage or shouts of delight. It’ll rain into an inconvenience or into something to celebrate.
It’s your show, your meaning, your dream. That’s what we awaken to.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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He has a B.S. in psychology and lives between two cornfields in rural Illinois. His errant knowledge base covers Buddhism, philosophy, psychology, astronomy, theology, music theory, and quoting lines from movies.
Feel free to check out his Facebook page, and his blog "Salty Dharma".