As many of you know, I have been fortunate enough to live at Dakini Valley for 6 years. It was an unexpected outcome of my journey to the States; Jetsunma had suggested her small Sangha in Alice Springs move to Sedona in AZ, to receive teachings and learn. I was the first of those able to leave, and arrived wide-eyed, yet exhausted, on a Thursday in April. That Saturday I travelled to Dakini Valley with another nun, for what I thought would be a would be a weekend visit; I never left.
That first summer was an eruption of activity. Everything - everyone - was new to me, so sometimes it was raw and challenging. Renovations we being made to Jetsunma's retreat home by a group of monks, and I was thrown into a world far removed from where I had come. There was a sense of community and commitment, and sometimes tension, as the days could be long and hot, and the living situation quite rustic. But just as the electric storms and rain sliced across the sky to clear the heavy air, we ultimately worked together, as a team.
By the end of July numbers had dwindled; the task complete, people peeled away back to jobs and other actvities. Finally only one monk and I remained. I had nowhere in particular to go to, and was concerned about who would care for Jetsunma's garden when everyone had left. To my utter suprise, Jetsunma suggested I remain living here, on my own.
This had never even occured to me as a possibility, it was like a door to an unknown world had been flung open. I grew up in the suburbs of Australia's largest city, i have always lived in regular houses on regular streets of regular cities and towns, where there are people and shops and activity and conversations and electricity and so on. At that time Dakini Valley had no phone, let alone internet access. It is 5 miles on a rugged dirt road from the nearest habitation of weekenders and a sprinkling of permanent residents; 45 minutes on dirt to a town of 800 with one general store; 1.5 hours mostly on dirt to a town with traffic lights. And surrounded by 3 million acres of magnificent untamed wilderness.
Supported by Jetsunma's assurance I would be safe, and certain she would never place any being in harm's way, I stayed, with only my precious canine friend Gyspy as daily company. The early months were hard, almost beyond description, as I met and embraced the fears and uncertainties dormant in my mind, each and every day and night. The hugeness of the landscape and sense of isolation both swallowed me up and expanded my breath. I was not lonely, but aware of alone-ness; until i finally began to recognise that in the depths of my heart i was never alone. That took a very very long time to begin to comprehend, and i am still learning.
One of the tasks Jetsunma asked me to do, written in her very own hand, was feed the wild birds of the Valley. Arizona has been in a severe drought for over a decade, the land can be barren and dry. Besides, Jetsunma has a heart so big, there is space for everyone. She asked me to keep the bird feeders full, always. While this may sound simple, it has been a joyful, arduous and challenging practice to try and fulfill. Over the years i have wept, despaired, rejoiced, resisted as I have tried to come to terms with that one simple sentence.
There have at times been over a hundred feeders hanging from the trees; there are countless birds who have come to live here. Generations have been born. Every day from first light till shadows lengthen, the air is softened by chirping and chatter and song, and the raucous calls of the ravens. Our birder monk, Konchog, who was here that first summer, recorded 25 species, all fairly ordinary. At times in summer I have used hundred of pounds of feed, thousands of dollars in value. Who knows how many 50lb bags I have lugged, buckets I have carried. I became a familiar sight in Payson Walmart, several shopping carts in tow, laden with seed.
Feeding the birds has been hard, not because i don't love them, they have truly become my babies. But because of the constant enormity of it, physically, financially. I have been stretched beyong my limit, not knowing how I can raise the funds, how to accomplish abundance. Especially at this time of year, when they are so hungry and devour the food so quickly. Or when the elk move in, and everything vanishes overnight. It has seemed - still seems - an impossible task, and yet it is mine to embrace.
I have lived with this practice for years know, swilled it around in my mind, savoured the different aromas. I have seen the contraction and tension, the tightening up of my heart, and also known the expansion and relaxation, the simple joy of watching them feed. Layer upon layer of reaction and understanding have been there for me to peel back, to try and recognise that place where empty and full are one and the same. This is a journey of generosity, of letting go, of breaking through my limitations, of becoming, from inside out, the source of abundance that is our true nature. All this with a bucket of feed.
Like anything, feeding the birds is about just that - feeding the hungry, caring for those in need. But also like everything else, it contains the potential to be a method of change. Of changing my mind, my heart, my view of the world. When I look out the window at the stunted apple tree, its only fruit a bounty of thistle-filled feeders laden with finches, I am deeply joyful. When, a day later the feeders are emptied, and the small birds fly about urgently, looking for food, I am saddened. And, almost immediately, worried that I don't have enough, and how will I get more. Again and again this scenario plays out. But I urge myself to feed them, and in so doing also myself, because the source of true nourishment is the willingness to change and the confidence to let go of old habits.
This month is National Wild Bird Feeding month, and so I have favour to ask. Feed some birds, it won't cost much, and watching them feed will bring great pleasure. And as you do, make a prayer or a wish that not only these birds, but every bird, and not only every bird, but every being shall never again know hunger. That instead of poverty there will be abundance, where bowls are empty they will be filled. I promise you from the depths of my heart that this will sow seeds of great joy, for you, for all of us, which eventually will bear the sweet fruit of fulfillment.