This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Monday, May 8, 2006

May 11, 2006 - wild parrots, right livelihood

Recently, my wife brought home a fascinating film from the library called "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill."

It told the story of a man, Mark Bittner, who had once tried to start a life as a musician. That hadn't worked out. He wound up in San Francisco, where he spent a lot of time studying various Eastern philosophies, and reading poetry, particularly the works of Gary Snyder.

On the basis of that study, he decided that he needed to make a stronger connection to nature. At that moment, he was not quite squatting in a small rental house on Telegraph Hill.

Just below him was a flock of wild parrots, known variously as the cherry-headed conure, the red masked conure, the red-masked parakeet, and the red-headed conure. The birds are not native to the area. Nobody is quite sure how they got there.

Over the next six years, Bittner earned the birds' trust, feeding them as often as five times a day. He began to make very detailed notes, based on his close observation of their habits and personalities. Now he even has a book, also called "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill."

I recommend them, mainly for their surprisingly spiritual awareness of the natural life going on all around us, and to which most of us are oblivious.

But the thing that sticks with me was one of the comments Bittner made about why he had time -- a lot of time -- to be devoted to this peculiar connection to wild parrots.

Bittner said that he had not yet found what the Buddhists call "right livelihood."

Bittner was in fact living a pretty marginal life back then, a life utterly unconnected to the workaday world.

That seems to have changed for him. His amateur naturalist status, the success of the film, the success of his book, have kept him on the lecture circuit for a number of years now.

Bittner seems now to have found a way to turn his natural interests, his loves, into a way to "earn a living."

The Buddhist idea of right livelihood isn't just about WHAT you do. It's about how.

The "right" job might be almost anything, at any level of society. But "wrong" livelihood is characterized by scheming, a lustfulness to win at the expense of others, a grasping for illusory power.

I've known a lot of people who never felt like they had found the right work. Or maybe, they never figured out how to make the kind of work they had INTO the right livelihood. There are so many false measures of success, and some are seductive.

I got lucky. I found an institution whose values, whose purpose, made sense to me, and that I was proud to serve. Moreover, I've learned a lot from it. But everyone doesn't get lucky.

The message of Bittner and the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill is this: you start where you are. You use YOUR talents, YOUR insights, to do the things that make sense to you.

And then, just maybe, your life takes flight.

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