I've had a recent visitor at my house in the form of a woodpecker (that looks much like the one in the image above) with something to teach me.
My house is an A-frame style house with large windows on the upper story of the "A" part of the house that face a large ash tree. This new visitor of mine spends his time going to and fro between the ash tree and my house.
His first priority was attacking a strip of wood that is apparently rotten along one of the windows. With that task thoroughly accomplished, he's taken to spending several hours every afternoon diligently attacking the windows themselves.
He flies at them repeatedly in an apparent attempt to engage them in a territorial battle. He doesn't peck at them like he does wood (thank goodness!), but he throws his body at various window panes over and over, scratching with his claws as if grab hold and beating his wings and body against the glass.
While this latest endeavor of his has at least seemed to distract him from causing any more damage to the wood of my house, it does not seem to be a very efficient use of his energy. It looks like an exhausting and battering exercise that is not accomplishing anything, but he persists day after day for those few hours every afternoon.
My best guess is that for those few hours every afternoon the light is hitting the glass at just the right angle to create a mirrored surface that is allowing this woodpecker to see a (likely somewhat distorted) version of himself in the glass.
That means he's spending all of this time and energy diligently battering himself against the glass in attacks on this evil, threatening intruder, who is only a reflection of himself.
As I watch and listen to his efforts each afternoon, I can't help but notice how much that is like what we do.
How often we attack (often with great diligence) those parts of ourselves that we find threatening in the reflections we see of ourselves in others. We throw ourselves with great outrage into a battle with what appears to be an outside threat but is really nothing more than our own (likely somewhat distorted) reflection in another.
For example, I had a situation at work last week where someone publicly "threw me under a bus" by deflecting responsibility for a decision my way. It was something that he knew would make him look good by disregarding policy but would be very costly to me in time, energy, and clean up, so he publicly put me on the spot in a way that would force me to either do what he wanted or make me the fall guy for refusing to bend the rules.
I was so furious that I was shaking. I wanted to attack him publicly and privately for having put me in that spot, but I knew I needed to calm down first.
Once I did begin to calm, I quickly recognized that much of my fury grew out of the knowledge that I have used that same tactic on others, deflecting responsibility for something that I knew might disappoint someone so that someone else would have to take the blame. Ouch!
It doesn't excuse what he did, but once I recognized that the immensity of my fury was really at the reflection of myself (and a part of myself that I am ashamed of) in him, my focus shifted from attacking him to looking more deeply at what it is in me that leads me to do the same thing so I can shift that behavior in myself.
I'm gently uncovering the wounds in me that drive this behavior and tending to them with loving-kindness as I explore new, more helpful ways of responding to situations like this. I'm already discovering that this tending to my own "stuff" is proving to be a much more effective use of my time and energy than any attack on him would ever have been.
In the moment, it feels so much easier (and safer) to attack these reflections of ourselves in others, but those reflections follow us wherever we go, leaving us battering ourselves against mirages over and over again with as much effectiveness as this visiting woodpecker.
Imagine what it would look like instead to use these reflections we see in others of those parts of ourselves we find threatening as invitations to face our own woundedness and vulnerability and the unhelpful coping mechanisms that have grown out of them. (After all, isn't that what each of those threatening parts of ourselves really is?)
What if we were to put our energy into loving and healing those wounded places in ourselves first? I suspect we'd find fewer and fewer threatening reflections to attack in others.
Imagine what energy that would free up to put into more productive pursuits. And imagine how much more peaceful life could be without those threatening reflections dancing in our peripheral vision all the time.
I have someone lined up to come replace the rotten piece of wood (now blasted to bits) later this week, but the impact of this woodpecker visitor of mine will last longer as I use his example to encourage myself to look more carefully into those things in others that provoke me to find the reflection of myself that is mine to deal with.
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