This week I took a walk with my friend Rachel at a place everyone in Palo Alto calls The Dish. A paved path cuts through the foothills. There are views that unfurl toward the San Francisco Bay, and on a clear day, reach as far north as Marin county. We often have nature encounters. We see squirrels, bunnies, deer, sometimes coyotes, and a lot of birds. Sparrows flutter by the edge of the path, herons stand on one foot in the golden grass, sea gulls slice across the sky, and hawks perch in oak trees.
In the middle of our walk we noticed something unusual. What we saw first was a group of women in bright tops and sunglasses approaching us. They walked quickly and darted their heads from side to side. Sometimes they craned their necks behind them. It was hard to tell if they were doing a new exercise (should we be trying it?!) or if they were in some kind of distress. It was the jagged way their heads moved that made me think this wasn't just exercise.
When they came closer we saw that three wild turkeys were chasing them. The turkeys were puffed up, their feathers splayed tall and proud like on a Thanksgiving card. Their poking beaks getting nearer and nearer to the women's legs.
How threatening is a turkey? None of us actually knew. Their beaks looked pointy, alarmingly they moved pretty fast. And they were big. They were about up to our chests, and like a set of three army tanks they barreled toward us.
Now we were the ones slightly anxious and uncomfortable, was this funny or dangerous? It was hard to say. Rachel retied her coat around her waste as we zeroed in on what to do. Our first instinct was to join the other women, to turn around put as much distance between us and the turkeys. But there seemed something off to me about that. Either the turkeys were a danger and we really should run, not speed walk, or they were dimwitted, but very afraid birds. So I said to Rachel, "These are turkeys. They don't want to chase us. I mean don't we call people turkeys when they are generally acting daft and ridiculous? I think we're probably more dangerous to them then they are to us."
And with that, I just stopped walking. I stood stock still in the path as the ladies in their bright tops blazed by. Rachel stood there with me, now stuck, somewhat unwittingly in my decision. I was honestly a little scared. I did not know if this tactic would work and if it didn't I did not have a back up plan. But it felt like the right thing to do. I forced myself to get very still. I took a few deep breaths. I dropped my gaze about six feet in front of me, where I let my eyes soften. Rachel did the same.
It was like a cloud of calm mushroomed out of us and when it hit the turkeys, they slowed down. In the length of time it took for me to take three breaths they slowed down, and from where we were standing it looked like they almost melted. They shrunk to half their size, pulling all their big feathers back into their bodies. They were no longer looking like iconic Thanksgiving card turkeys, but small brown barnyard animals.
The thing I want to say about this is that I notice I often have a way of making the turkeys in my life chase me down. I have a way of making the things that trigger me bigger. I am often dealing with the problem itself, and the extra energy I have that is inflaming the problem--puffing it up like those turkeys on the path.
We all know what we are supposed to do in that moment. Take a deep breath, calm down. But the thing is, we don't believe it will actually work. We don't have faith that calming down will do anything but give us the relief of a deep breath. The fact is, it does much more. The thing that happened with the turkeys, it seemed almost physical, as if there were tiny strings between us and them. And that by changing the vibration of the string, things between us changed significantly. Animals show us this all the time. Our thoughts are just to big to let us believe it, I think.
There you have it, unedited, typos and all.
I would love to know what you do, not just to calm down, but to convince yourself that calming down is worth doing. What is the thought or impulse or feeling that tells you it is time to get back to center?