Bird Faces The Fear Of The Seemingly Inevitable Actions Of Instinct

 In Art & Philosophy, Audio, Blog


In today’s podcast I use a sketch I made of a cat and bird back in 2019 to talk about how we have the choice and the freedom to decide to live as conscious human beings.


Often when I start a drawing, I’m not thinking about what I’m going to draw and even less so what the drawing might be about. From when I was young, I have loved doing little sketches of cats especially. So when doing this drawing of the cat, just from the sense of enjoyment of drawing a cat, the bird came after. And as sometimes happens when finishing a drawing or a painting, a title occurs to me. In this case it was ‘Bird faces its fear’.
This then triggers a meandering train of thought exploring what that might be about. What do I see and interpret from looking at the drawing? Then came a sentence pointing a bit more in the direction of what was contained in the image, which was ‘Bird faces the fear of the seemingly inevitable actions of instinct’.

At the time when I finished this picture, I was first ‘drawn’ to see the cat; because it is the biggest thing in the drawing and also because I felt attracted to its ‘cuteness’. However, for the bird, the cat is far from cute; it’s an existential threat. Even so, in the stance of the bird I perceive that it’s alertly standing its ground; it has decided to face its fear. That is the impression I got from the drawing and so that is what I’d like to explore.

For me, this image is descriptive of how human relations can often come to be shaped. For instance, I have noticed in myself that I have learned to be protectively vigilant for the unconscious behaviour or emotional outbursts of others, which often come from their need to protect themselves. I have noticed in myself too, that sometimes I can also be the one who unconsciously reacts. However, is it inevitable that we are forever shaped, in our relationships, by our unconscious perceived fears?

The need to protect oneself is a very instinctual one and it’s mostly unconscious. It doesn’t take into account rationalising questions such as: ‘Am I actually in danger?’, ‘Does this person actually mean me harm?’, ‘Could I be mistaken?’ etc. Because there is this immediate sense of danger (like to the body, to the identity, to one’s sense of ok-ness), the body goes into flight, fight or freeze. There is a feeling of urgency and immediacy that triggers a swift unconscious reaction.

Now I’m asking myself: how does that show up in the image of the cat’s instinctual predatory gaze upon the little bird?
Well, I think that it is clear that the cat is fat and therefore in no need of immediate sustenance. The cat’s urge to ‘go for’ the bird is a merely an instinctual one, based on the need for survival, even though he is no danger of going hungry .
And when people unconsciously act on their instinctual urge for survival (of their body, identity, ok-ness, financial security) they might just lash out with words, intimidation, physical violence or passive aggressively through gossip or manipulation.

Then, in regard to the bird and its apparent decision to stand its ground; it is moving from the instinctual urge of survival to consciously face its fear. And to me the bird looks firm and grounded. However, this is just a drawing, that to me, mirrors a human situation, as I am assuming that animals do not have the faculty of conscious choice. Because what fat cats and little birds don’t have, and we do, is the ability to observe ourselves and others consciously. This gives us the ability to choose.

To reiterate, I am writing this to portray how human interactions and relationships can be shaped by perceived feelings of being threatened. So this is not about the sad fact of human interactions that are shaped by actual violence and abuse. There is a very fundamental difference in that danger in the latter (to body, sense-of-self) is actual, where in the former is it perceived only. And perception happens in yourself.
The unconscious shaping and holding of negative beliefs and perceptions about oneself and others will lead to unconscious projection onto others and also onto oneself. And because it is unconscious, one will unconsciously react to it instinctively, as if being attacked.
However, as human beings we have the privilege of consciousness, giving us the ability to observe, rationalise (what is actually happening) and choose how we live; how we treat ourselves and others. We are not trapped in biology, instinct, history (personal or global) or even genetics unless we believe that is all we are. So to anthropomorphise once more….The bird in the drawing, even though seen as prey and so much smaller than the towering cat (the bird’s fear mirrored), manages to know itself as more and therefor can stand its ground.

So when you feel yourself reacting instinctively, take a moment to notice. A moment, however small, can be all it takes to go from instinctive human animal to conscious human being. Know who you are.

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