Picture a serene swan gliding along a lake. It’s summer and the graceful bird weaves its way along the banks, in and out of the willow trees whose branches reverently bow to kiss the water. The pink and white blossom shroud the dark water in a fitting carpet of petals as the swan floats through creating a pathway. The water doesn’t even ripple. It simply parts, almost prayerfully, as the auspicious swan arches its neck and preens its proud chest with that slight castanet sounding bill. She ruffles her feathers as the orange bill in rhythmic pattern continues the self-groom. Appearing through the willow’s bloom come five cygnets (baby swans). Also elegant in their trajectory, except with eyes and heads darting from left to right, taking it all in. Swans mate for life. It’s difficult to tell cobs (male) and pens (female) swans apart. Let’s assume the cygnets are following their mother right now. Mother swan is calm — all is as it should be.
Father swan cannot be far away, distracted by some wide-eyed child throwing bread at him while the child’s grandmother tells her that in England all Swans are under royal protection and are all technically owned by the Queen. The wide-eyed toddler is as unimpressed by this news as the father swan who tosses his curved neck and shakes his bill with a hybrid sound of a loud shriek and an old bicycle horn to assert his swan-sovereignty. His majesty depends on no one. His neck extends — a hiss, which if amplified would almost sound Jurassic, reminds grandmother of who is King of swan lake. The hiss throttles menacingly and the human interlopers retreat. Father swan, remembering his family and responsibilities, leaves the lakeside and is once again in pursuit of his mate and their fluffy-grey darlings.
Now, let’s go beneath the water. There’s a whole underworld teeming with life. Reeds and grasses sway from the gentle currents made by ten little webbed-feet and the larger webbed-feet of Mother and Father Swan. Those paddles are busy. Navigating left and right, slow and fast, and of course, stop and glide. In motion, the busyness of the webbed feet is equal in its opposite to the serene glide it displays above the surface. And right there, I see the grace in the doing, the gentleness and ease in the frenetic, the dignity in containing the drama, the acceptance of the necessary exertion without a fuss, without the splish or the splash, just the appropriate push. This is not image-management. It’s not some fraudulent disguise. It’s simply a natural fact about swan life.
In a few short months, Winter will arrive. The willows’ dropped-blossom and surrendered leaves will reveal spindly skeletons. The naked willow trees, ghostly shadows, will loom conspicuously. There’s not even a hint of their former grandeur. No hint of the swelling of their luxuriant overcoats — of leaves, flowers and the dependent teeming insect and birdlife. No hint of the extravagant overflowing Summer garments. The swans ignore the bare apparitions now; no shade needed in the crisp air. The lake slowly but steadfastly obeys the Winter and freezes from the outer perimeter inwards towards the centre of the lake. The swans remain graceful until the whole lake is frozen over.
Go Where You Flourish
Now, out of their true environment, they are forced to launch towards land. They exit from the centre to the circumference. Like gangly knock-kneed old men, they lean, lurching to the left, almost a stumble, then to the right. A clumsy dance. A drunken stagger. An awkward waltz — back, side, together. Our noble and gracious creatures are lost to themselves. All the glide replaced by an ungainly waddle. The webbed-feet are ill-equipped and comical on ice. The swans’ flexible necks look unsteady, close to the ground, gauging the path ahead. The webbed feet almost spasm trying to learn weight displacement and thin-ice dare-games. Our hero swans humbly exit Swan Lake. They take to the air and fly to warmer climates. The swans north of the equator fly South and the swans south of the equator fly North. They continually seek the habitats in which they can be at their most graceful and most natural. Their priority is to seek the habitat in which they truly belong. Where they truly belong is home and home is where they belong.
How is the swan so graceful? The swan is only graceful by being at home in its correct and compatible environment.
The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
What is your true and supportive environment? Have you found yourself in incompatible environments? What happens to your spirit when you are away from your soul-home for too long? What can bring you into a grateful, effortless flow, which generates all you need — not only to support your body but also nourish your heart and soul? What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Where do you belong? Where do you call home?
Please let us know if the swan metaphor has inspired you to find your true environment? Whether you are waddling towards it, don’t even know what it might look like or perhaps you are halfway there, we’d love to hear from you.
May your motivation and inspiration be active and productive and may your journey be elegant, sweet and in peaceful flow.
Peace be with you always.
Much Love Paul and Team UPLIFT