Chicken Mind, Beginner’s Mind

At a recent weekend retreat I found myself confessing that “chickens are my spiritual practice.” I meant it as a joke, but as I reflected later on that comment, I realized that it is in many ways, true. This led me to pick up a book which was gifted to me when I first began my journey with chickens. It is a lovely little gem entitled the Way of the Hen: Zen and the Art of Raising Chickens by Clea Danaan. I highly recommend reading it. If I may, I want to share some excerpts from this wonderful book:

Beginners mind is the Zen concept of approaching something without preconceived notions, labels, or ideas. One’s mind is open as a beginner’s. Chickens have a way of inspiring beginner’s mind. As I watch my hens strut around the yard, scratching for insects and gobbling down grass, I enter a place of delighted calm. Their simple needs become my simplified needs. I take a deep breath and settle into the moment. I am content just to sit. As we’ve seen, our relationship with the chicken is a complex one; and yet it is a calming and simple relationship that takes us back to ourselves.

from the Way of the Hen by Clea Danaan

I keep these words in mind as I go about my daily tasks. I have learned so many important lessons from my hens. Of my original flock, only two remain. Buffy, who is old and arthritic, amazes me every day with her continued zest for life as she runs out to the yard each morning with the others as if this day, today, will hold unexpected treasures yet to be discovered. Yellow Feet, who suffers each summer from an early molt which begins in July and continues slowly on until sometime in October, spends her days perched on the open doorsill of the coop, soaking in the sunshine and looking up at me expectantly for a treat of sunflower seeds. She teaches me patience and willingness to wait while soaking up the lovely sun. I am so glad I have had these companions for so long. Caring for chickens gets me up and outdoors early each morning, and reminds me to be mindful each evening as I go about the task of seeing everyone into the coop and safely to roost. I am reminded to be grateful each time I check the nest boxes for eggs. I feel connected to the circle of life as I gather eggs for morning breakfast or evening frittatas. I have consciously raised my young girls to be tame enough to sit on my lap, and to allow me to pick them up, so we enjoy lots of cuddle time. Chickens are so soft! So it’s a good life, all in all. Full of opportunities to be present.

Our connection with Spirit comes through our daily lives and through healthy unity with others as well as the vast Silence. The sound of one hand clapping is a path to enlightenment; the sound of one wing flapping is a path to a conscientious and enlightened world.

From the Way of the Hen by Clea Danaan

I took some time this morning to photograph my three younger hens. Allow me to introduce them to you:

This is Nellie. She lays a lovely egg every day.
This is Maisie. She loves to sit on my lap and go to sleep.
This is Daisy Sunshine. She loves to be petted and can purr just like a cat.

I know a lot of people who intentionally do not keep animals in retirement because they want to travel. And travel they do. I used to feel a bit jealous of that freedom because chickens certainly do tie you down to place. However I am coming to know a different definition of place and of freedom. Place is where I am right now. I don’t really need to be in any other place. I am HERE. My tasks are what I do. Cynthia Bourgeault teaches Centering Prayer, which is my meditation practice. In a recent teaching she revealed that the daily tasks of our lives should be approached reverently. Because this work itself offers to you a portal into the organicity and the dynamism of life. When you pick up a tool to begin a task, it should occur to you that you are entering into a relationship with the earth itself. It gives you an opportunity to be grounded in your body. “If you learn to do everything without rush, with intentionality, with humility and simplicity, you have spaciousness and freedom in that…It allows us to be fully present to our life.” I think there is a lot of freedom in that. And that is my new understanding of freedom.

I would love to hear your comments on this post. If you would like to share, please comment below.