Geetanjali Mukherjee

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Buddhist Parable on Procrastination

This year my New Year’s resolution, or one of them in any case, was to overcome my procrastination problem and start to do all the things I had been putting off. This was a tall order, I can see that, but without putting the big goal out there, I knew even slight progress would not be within sight.

In order to really convince myself to stop procrastinating and start taking action, I read everything I could on the topic - sophisticated theories and exhortations from everyone from bloggers to best-selling writers on why we procrastinate, on taking action, chunking, and many other nuggets of advice. Some I tried to implement, with some success, some I ignored or promptly forgot. As we do – we read so much on the internet, sometimes it feels like it’s in one ear, and out the other.
The one thing that really sticks out for me is a Buddhist parable I first read about in high school. It’s the legend of the kankucho bird. The story goes like this: the kankucho bird doesn’t have a nest, and consequently is very cold at night. It is shivering, and vows to itself that this situation is ridiculous, he must build himself a nest as soon as morning comes. Then morning dawns bright and beautiful, the sun is shining, and the kankucho bird is delighted with the possibilities of play in the sunshine.
All day long he plays in the sun, and then, before he realises it, the sun sets. It is suddenly dark and cold, and the bird bitterly regrets the day he wasted playing instead of building his nest. He now looks back to what he spent his day on, and compares it to the joy of having a warm nest, and berates himself on the way he spent his time. He vows anew to himself that no matter what, tomorrow morning he would definitely build the nest first, before getting distracted by anything else.
Morning comes, and full of intention the bird, badly shaken from the conditions of the night, rallies out to start building. And who does he meet but his best friend? Who invites him to join in this really wonderful new game he has invented – and before he knows the kankucho bird fritters away yet another precious day. This state of affairs continues till one day, the cold overcomes him and the bird dies, shelterless and defeated by its own follies.
Does this parable remind you of anything? Presented with endless amusements on our iphones and ipads, it is all too easy to do busy work or play games and fritter away our lives, never really getting to the things we really want to accomplish. Someone recently reminded me of this story, and I realised how hard it is for us to realise how precious time is until we no longer have any of it – just like the hapless kankucho bird. It’s so tempting to pursue the immediate pleasures and ignore the pressing, less fun but ultimately more rewarding tasks that we keep putting off till tomorrow.
What are you putting off that could change your life?
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