My daughter is a biology major and this past weekend I was out with her looking for squirrels. The essence of the project as I understood it was to observe squirrels at different times and in various weather conditions in order to understand their behaviour. The professor chose black squirrels for study as they are everywhere.
So, on Saturday we drove to Port Perry on our mission and decided to drive through the neighbourhood and park when we saw a squirrel, then walk from there. That happened quickly enough – we saw one fat black squirrel sitting on a branch. We parked and then zig zagged around the community for another hour and a half. And what did we see in all of that time? Exactly zero squirrels.
I agree with the professor, black squirrels are everywhere – I see them out my office windows, I see them on all the streets I drive, I see them tussling on the fence around my car in the Peterborough parking lot, I see them in street fights around bird feeders, I see them all over. I see them, except when I am intent on finding them.
I’m not sure whether this is biology, psychology, philosophy or maybe just physics, but I find this to often be the case in life – if I look too hard, plan my next three moves too carefully, try to anticipate the different encounters that I may have, I am most often staring at empty tree branches and wondering what’s going on.
A friend once accused me of “always trying to read the tea leaves” and I must admit that she is right. I am trying to be prepared, to log as many squirrels as possible, always trying to figure out my perfect, often defensive move in the ring. And I guess, the lesson that keeps circling back around as I so passionately work against learning it, is that I would fair better in a situation if I were to stay present and let things flow.
As I sit here typing this a squirrel is strolling along the top of the fence in the Peterborough parking lot. My daughter’s project is over, I have no clip board, and there is a squirrel. This is not to say that I will never plan, prepare, learn, or work out my strategy, but sometimes we all have to just stand still, stop searching and scheming, and just let the squirrels either show up or hide out.
When it is all said and done, there is so little that we really can control – squirrels, other people, situations, how people interpret communication, and all those tea leaves are going to behave in all kinds of wild ways. All we can really do is stay present and control what’s inside us – our thoughts, reactions, emotions, next moves in the moment.
So here is my conclusion from this fourth-year university project – squirrels behave exactly as they want, in the moment, without worrying or planning – and they do not feel any obligation to show up, even when a grand plan is made to observe them; they simply roll with it and will show up “all over the place” exactly when it is right for them. And they do not try to anticipate that which people with clipboards are actually seeking. They just flow.
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