🎧 Bedtime Story Podcast #13
Joy In A Swamp
Deep within the forest lived a bird. He was a very unusual bird. He was very similar to the other birds in that he looked very similar, ate the same foods, lived in the same area, flew to the same places. But there was one remarkable difference: he was not happy.
He had not even noticed this for a while. He thought it was quite normal to want to be happy, but not experience it yet. He always thought happiness was round the corner. Perhaps the next worm, the next flight, the next landing, the next encounter could finally satisfy him, but they never seemed to. Even when he was occasionally happy, it did not last for long.
“What’s wrong with me?” he asked himself one day. “Something must be wrong – I see all these other birds are so happy, so full of joy, without any concerns or cares, and yet I feel quite miserable! Certainly I am not as happy as these other birds!”
He would ask the other birds what their secret to happiness was, but they could not understand him. Whenever he would ask them why he was not happy and they were, they literally had no idea what he was talking about. It sounded like jibberish to them, and they just continued to sing, joyously, without concern for how they sounded or what tomorrow may bring.
All of this made the bird even more unhappy! He began to dwell on what must be wrong with him, and even though this never helped, he continued to do it. One could say he even enjoyed focusing on what must be wrong with himself, in an attempt to make himself better.
One day the bird had completely given up hope. “It’s no use,” he said, “perhaps the joy of being a bird is just not for me,” and he sat quietly on his branch. He suddenly felt a bit lighter. At least he did not have to keep trying to solve his problem of joy anymore, at least he could relax for a moment.
As he looked around, he saw the famous frog sitting on the ground, just a few meters away. This frog was famous because he was so joyful. He was usually either seen singing and dancing, or sitting quietly, enjoying the swamp in which he lived. The other frogs admired him, and would sometimes go to him for advice. He was very wise, and he was happy.
Now it was not normal for a bird to speak with a frog. Birds and frogs were not enemies, but they tended to leave each other alone. They coexisted peacefully, but it was as if they occupied different worlds.
The now more relaxed bird looked down at the famous frog, and without even thinking about it, flew down to see him.
“Hello,” said the bird.
The frog was gently smiling, with his eyes closed.
“Oh, hello,” replied the frog, still with his eyes closed.
Standing in the presence of this frog the bird felt more alive than he ever had done before. “Why have I never spoken to this frog before?” he wondered…”Just because the other birds don’t?”
The bird felt like asking the frog about his happiness, even though he could feel something quite pleasant arising within him already…
“I have a question,” said the bird.
The frog opened his eyes. It looked like there were beams of light just behind them.
“You seem so joyful. More joyful than other frogs. Why is that? You live in the same place, eat the same foods, go to the same places. Why are you so joyful?”
“First of all,” spoke the frog, “I don’t compare myself to other frogs. There is great happiness in this.”
The bird expected more, but the frog said no more.
“So if I want to be happier, I should stop comparing myself to other birds?”
“Yes,” said the frog. “Second of all, you should stop living by ‘should’s’ and ‘should not’s’!” the frog gently laughed.
“Ah,” replied the bird. “Ok, what else should I…” realising what he had said, he stopped talking, but the frog continued.
“And the third thing is this – I see you flying around, nesting, going about your day. I hear you speaking with the other birds. You live in a beautiful home, you have plenty of food, you can fly, you can do as you wish, but the reason for your unhappiness, is that you care more about what you don’t have, than what you do have. You are always thinking about what’s wrong rather than appreciating what’s right. If something doesn’t go your way, you become consumed by it, and miss the inherent beauty of this place. I don’t know why you do this, perhaps you think that if you focus on what is wrong, or focus on what is missing, then that means you can correct your problems, but this approach does not work. It keeps you stuck in what’s wrong, and it doesn’t let you out. I saw you looking for more twigs for your nest the other day, and the whole time you were complaining that your nest was not big enough. You could have got the twigs, without the added complaints. You feel as if you need the complaints to have a good life, when all your complaints do is convince you that your life is not good enough.
“You need not compare yourself with other birds, but you can watch them, appreciate them. They live as if nothing has ever happened, and nothing will ever happen. They are simply here. They are not capable of thinking about what they don’t have. They just enjoy what they do have. Then they are happy, and are open to receive even more – even more joy, even more food, even more twigs.”
The bird sat there and watched his friends, quite in awe. He felt his old, complaining self, slipping away.
“The fourth and final thing to mention, in your case, is this,” said the frog. “Everyone wants happiness. Naturally, everyone wants to feel happy and free. If you want something, you tend to go and look for it. If you want a worm, you fly off and look for a worm. If you want a twig for your nest, you go and look for one. If you want happiness, you go and look for it. Happiness is not the same as getting a twig or a worm. Joy and happiness is there when you don’t want it anymore, when you are not looking for it. If you want it, you look, you seek, and this looking and seeking takes you away from the joy that is there in the absence of seeking it. You will notice that whenever you have been happy in your life, you had given yourself permission to no longer search for it. You dropped your seeking, and so you felt happy.
“A bird, like you, once came to me, a few years ago,” continued the frog, now very much enjoying his encounter with his flying visitor. “He said to me, ‘Frog, what have you got to be so happy about? You live in a dirty swamp, you cannot fly, you cannot sing, you can merely croak, you are so limited. How is it that you, a mere frog, appear to be more full of joy than me, a beautiful bird?’“
The frog was smiling.
“And I replied, ‘I have no idea what you have just said. You are thinking about all you believe to be wrong. I am not able to do that. I appreciate what is, and I do not care about what is not. I do not live by ideals, I am not able to dwell on what I cannot do or do not have. I enjoy what is, and do not care about what is not. Therefore, I am joyously happy.’“
The bird was now sitting there, enjoying the story, feeling quite happy indeed. Not just happy, something felt deeper than that. It was as if a weight he had been carrying was now put down, and without his effort, there was a joy arising inside him, cleansing him, embracing him.
The frog closed his eyes again, and there was only the distant croaks of frogs, the clicking of insects, and the songs of birds up above. After a minute or two of sitting, the bird stood up, bowed down, and flew back up into the trees.