An artist who painted birds had a policy of only painting ones that he had shot and stuffed; this way he could study the bird and then decide what aspect he really wanted to paint. One day he went out with his gun, saw a bird that really captivated him, shot it, stuffed it and painted it. The painting was entered into an exhibition. Someone who saw the painting contacted the artist and wanted to know where he had obtained the reference material for this now extinct bird. The artist was horrified to realize that he had killed the last living bird of its species, and that in killing that one bird he had silenced an entire species’ song.
There are moments when one thing ends and life without that thing begins, and that ending can hit us strongly. At my first monastery in upstate New York, a Trappist monastery, the Monks had a herd of prized Black Angus. I would occasionally help out with the herd, even helping the brother in charge of the herd deliver an extra-large calf one cold morning. For some reason that I was not privy to the Monks decided to sell off the entire herd. One day a fleet of trucks arrived, loaded the cattle, and drove off. Later I went for a walk and found myself near the barn. While it was strange to not see any cattle in the fields, it was even stranger to walk into the barn and find it completely empty: No hot breathe puffing in the cold air, no mooing… even the smells were beginning to dissipate. I stood in the lifeless barn and wondered: When the barn has outlived the cattle… then what? Strangely, the empty barn felt like some kind of portal into a mysterious new life that could now occur within its emptiness. I have no idea why that moment hit me so strongly, but that empty barn made me realize that sometimes one life needs to end in order for a new life to begin.
The very thought of putting an end to a way of living can be unnerving since we have no experience yet in the possible life beyond the moment of that ending. As a result of our fear we can sometimes get stuck in a life that no longer works simply because we are afraid of leaving that which is familiar. But really, we have only two choices: Either stay with what is miserable, or leave it behind for the possibility of something better. This applies to an apartment, a career or even a relationship. One question to ask before the leap, however, is: Is it actually the situation that is miserable, or is it me that is making it miserable?! This question is an important one because if it is me making things miserable then unless I change I stand a good chance of making a new life equally as miserable as the old. So if I choose to change my circumstances, most probably I will also need to change my thinking and the way in which I interact with life; otherwise, why even leave the barn?