Of the many words of wisdom imparted by Swami Satchidananda, the one I most often repeat to myself is this: Let nothing disturb your peace. And while this might sound at first a little unrealistic, the essence of this valuable reminder is that, when I have a decision to make, the criterion is pretty simple. Will this disturb my peace? If I eat this food, spend this money, associate with this person or respond in this way, will it leave me feeling better? Or worse?
The truth is, I give away my peace all the time without my permission. I give it to drivers who cut me off on the highway. I offer it up when I watch the news. I hand my peace right over when I’m left on hold too long.
And I give it to this guy here, too. This is Louie. He’s my ten-year-old blue crown conure.
Parrots are fascinating creatures. I’ve read they’re actually smarter than dogs, with the emotional intelligence of a three-year-old child. I can’t speak for every parrot, but I can tell you mine also has the emotional needs of a toddler. He will not be ignored; he’s much too LOUD to be ignored! Because he wants to be involved in our household activities, most of the time I tote him around the house wherever I go. If I’m on the sofa watching football, he’s on his perch right next to me. He preens his feathers while I fix my hair. He likes to be in the kitchen when I’m cooking so he can sample little tidbits. Louie usually eats what I eat – except chocolate, which is deadly to parrots. Naturally, if I’m not sharing my chocolate with him, he becomes pretty vocal. Yes, he’s kind of a brat. Mea culpa!
Anyway, I mention Louie here because he’s been a real lesson in patience and acceptance for me. Unlike dogs and cats, even the tamest birds are still essentially wild animals, and intelligent ones like Louie have minds – and wills – of their own.
When Louie starts screaming loud enough to wake the dead, yelling back at him does no good whatsoever. It actually makes things more exciting for him. Birds love drama. And it always makes me feel worse. Having your buttons pushed by a blue-headed creature whose weight is measured in grams is embarrassing.
One Saturday afternoon, Louie was being particularly obnoxious. I was rushing around doing housework, and Louie was not happy about being excluded. He didn’t want the cashews I offered him, or the ginger snaps, or even part of my sandwich. No. He wanted to be in the bathroom inhaling Lysol fumes with me. He wanted to march across the kitchen counter and throw silverware on the floor. (Louie loves bling of all kinds, even utensils.) And because he was not getting his way, he was shrieking at the top of his considerably loud voice.
I lost my temper. “Louie!” I yelled at him. “Stop it! Stop it right now! You are a BAD BIRD!” Not very yogic, I know.
What happened next is true, I swear. Louie stopped screaming, lowered his head and, in a contrite voice, said, “I’m sorry.”
Then he straightened up and chirped brightly, “It’s okay!”
My jaw dropped. No one taught him to say that word, let alone when to say it. As you might have guessed, Louie spent the rest of the afternoon on my shoulder, playing with my hair while I polished the furniture and folded laundry.
Over the years that this parrot has owned me, I’ve learned to exercise a lot of caution when speaking in front of him. He has a good vocabulary for a smallish parrot. His favorite expression is “pretty bird!” but he also says “hello?” when the phone rings, lets out a wolf whistle when I’m getting dressed and laughs when I put out the dogs. He’ll chirp “Kiss me!” and press his little beak to my lips. In spite of ten years of coaching, Louie refuses to say “I love you.” However, he will mutter the one naughty word in his repertoire, under his breath, as if he knows it’s bad. Considering my sons were teenagers when I got him, I think we got lucky. Thank goodness fart-knocker didn’t become part of the lexicon.
Louie will probably never have an extensive vocabulary like an African gray or a macaw, but there’s no way to know when something I say will be interesting enough for him to want to repeat it. So I try to make my words sweet.
And I strive to always treat Louie with compassion, even when he’s driving me nuts. When he throws his toys off the top of his cage, I cheerfully toss them back to him. He spends a lot of time standing on a little wooden perch, so I give him a regular foot massage, just on his right foot because the left is ticklish. I didn’t know much about parrots before I adopted Louie and was completely unprepared for the intensity of my relationship with him. In spite of his willfulness, he’s unabashedly devoted to me. It’s important to respect him and make his life as happy and stimulating as possible.
I’ve been trying to teach him to chant Om. What do you think?