The dog has just eaten her dinner for the first time in days. I have not been worried. There is a pattern to her behaviour that I perfectly understand…though precisely how she arrived at her conclusions escapes me. We had a visitor over New Year. Whenever this particular guest comes to stay, Ani’s food bowl remains untouched for the duration of the visit. She does not starve, managing instead to purloin, through persistence, puppy eyes and sheer cheek, a steady stream of delicacies usually lacking from her normal, balanced diet.
The fish in the aquarium, though equally aware of our visitor, have not changed their eating habits at all. They respond with their usual gusto to whatever is offered, being particularly fond of a slice of courgette. They also appreciate the algae wafers with which they play their own version of aquatic football, chasing and passing the last remaining morsels with speed and agility.
My son, meanwhile, has, through the occasional provision of food, acquired a cat. Not a full-time cat, but more of an opportunist that has taken up residence in his home. The cat now known as Oscar, may yet prove to be a more feminine feline than the name suggests. Either way, he/she already has my son trained and as he has me trained, I spent some time today searching for a pet shop that was open where I could acquire the necessities for his new companion.
And then, there are the birds. The little robin that now comes daily for his dinner at my garden table along with innumerable other birds…and the kites who draw our attention every time they treat us to a display of their aerial mastery. Like today, when everything stopped as we watched them swoop and dive from the kitchen window, eventually grabbing the camera and heading outdoors….as always.
The fish never change their behaviour because there is no cause to do so. Their diet does not change just because we have visitors. Their world is bounded by the glass of their tank. It is self contained and the conditions of their existence remain constant. There is nothing new for them to react to. The dog, on the other hand, knows full well that my guest will oblige her with treats, ball-throwing and cuddles. It is a simple, frank arrangement. The cat, reacting to the offer of food, has capitalised on the situation with feline finesse and cunning and now owns a fully trained lap in a warm house, along with a brand new litter-box, catnip and toys. The robin has me trained, knowing I come when he calls… and the kites, oblivious and glorious, have us trained by their power and beauty.
We are all caught by our reactions. We may be reacting to new situations, yet the reactions themselves are not new…they are the product of a lifelong conditioning created from our responses to all the experiences we have encountered, our personalities and the way we notice and react to the needs and desires of others. Some of those reactions are not even truly our own but have been learned from our society and our parents. This is not necessarily a bad thing… it is from those who raise us that we learn our early understanding of empathy and compassion.
It does become a problem, though, when we allow unthinking, unconscious reaction to be the ruling force of our lives. We are able to respond on auto-pilot, without any thought or consideration for what we are doing or why. We may well end up doing the right thing that way, but it is not always for the right reasons, nor is it a conscious act…a choice. And that automatic reaction can so occupy our attention that we fail to see what is right in front of our eyes.
Which is why, while we were watching the kites through the kitchen window at the front of the house, revelling in their speed and power, we almost failed to see the kite that had perched in the tree at the back of the house. Sometimes the best things can be hidden in plain sight and we are blinded to them simply because we are operating on auto-pilot.