Scritch scritch scritch!!! 

I look up from my lap­top and sigh. Here we go again. This is the umpteenth star­ling that has flown down our chim­ney and got­ten stuck in the yoga stu­dio fire­place. I can hear the poor guy bang­ing about inside the stove, chat­ter­ing in panic.

This bird retrieval sequence is stan­dard by now. Open both doors. Grab the broom. Cover my head with a tow­el. Pray.

Luckily, my stove is a top loader. I take a deep breath, lean my head away from the open­ing, and quick­ly flip the top open. The star­ling flies straight out at my face, caus­ing me to shriek and duck. Then he zooms straight toward the cleresto­ry win­dow, 9 feet above the floor and too far away for me to help him.

Of course he does. They always do. I watch in con­ster­na­tion as he beats his wings use­less­ly against the glass, ter­ri­fied and scream­ing. I grab the broom and try to shoo him towards the open door to no avail. I scare him more; the bird dive-bombs the win­dow even more ferociously.

He doesn’t see that the glass is sim­ply an illu­sion, doesn’t real­ize that free­dom lies less than a few feet away. His stub­born refusal to try a dif­fer­ent tack will be his ruin.

I can’t blame him. After all, no one does obsti­nate and obtuse bet­ter than human beings. We get stuck in the same per­pet­u­al pat­terns; get caught up in our rou­tines of work, exer­cise, diet, and par­ent­ing. The pat­terns range from the small, like tak­ing the same route to work day after day, to the larg­er, more harm­ful, like always falling for an emo­tion­al­ly unavail­able part­ner. Over time, these pat­terns feel more like a rut and less like free­dom. These pat­terns of habit and thought are called sam­skara in the yoga world. It’s Einstein’s famous def­i­n­i­tion of insan­i­ty: we do the same things on loop but dogged­ly insist the result will be dif­fer­ent this time.

We respond to a sit­u­a­tion exact­ly the same way each time and nev­er grow, end up mak­ing the same mis­takes over and over and over. It’s why 95% of peo­ple who lose weight gain it back, why it takes most peo­ple years in ther­a­py to work through their repet­i­tive, self-sab­o­tag­ing behav­iors. Constant, unchang­ing nar­ra­tives rule our days.

I’m too fat.

I’m too old.

I’m unlov­able.

I’m stu­pid.

I’ll nev­er be happy.

I’m trapped.

My life will always be a win­dow and nev­er a door.

We can blame it on our brains. Remember the Golden Rule of neu­ro­science? Neurons that fire togeth­er wire togeth­er. Our gray mat­ter loves pre­dictabil­i­ty and dou­bles down on any pat­tern it can. So all of our habits – be they good ones or harm­ful ones – become our default setting.

Our brain tells us to keep beat­ing our wings against that glass. When it doesn’t work? We beat hard­er, shriek loud­er, then feel vic­tim­ized and per­se­cut­ed. The only way out is to con­sid­er our goal from a fresh angle. What you tried yes­ter­day lead to your cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. If the sit­u­a­tion isn’t desir­able, per­haps it’s time for a dif­fer­ent approach?

Look around for a new per­spec­tive. If the poor bird would just turn his gaze a lit­tle, he would see blue sky that isn’t trapped behind a glass barrier.

I walk out the door and start singing. Finally, I grab his atten­tion to the oth­er blue sky. He zips through the open door and sails to free­dom. I clap and smile. Bön voy­age, lit­tle buddy.

  • Erin Skinner Smith

    Erin Skinner Smith wants every­one to slow down, eat real food, move their bod­ies, go out­side, and hit the pil­low a lit­tle ear­li­er for a more pur­pose­ful exis­tence. She is a pub­lished writer, yoga teacher, and mind­ful­ness coach. When she’s not stand­ing on her head or typ­ing on her trusty lap­top, you’ll find her read­ing, play­ing gui­tar, enjoy­ing a glass of bour­bon, or snug­gling on the couch with her peo­ple and pets. Send her a dig­i­tal high five at erintheomplace.net.