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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Life: Are We Listening and Living?

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 10th 2008

 Is it possible that in our daily lives of "quiet desperation" we over look daily miracles because we take so much for granted? I am asking this question not as a religious person because I am not religious. In fact, I am not even asking this question as a spiritual person and I do not believe that I am particularly spiritual. Instead, I am asking this question as simply and only, a living person who, along with everyone else, is trying to understand life and the difficulties we human beings seem to get ourselves into.

Here is what I am getting at:

Several weeks ago my wife and I noticed that a pair of robins were building a nest outside of our back door within the framework of our back porch. It was fascinating to watch these birds build a nest that they carefully but firmly balanced between two wooden support beams that support the structure.

After the nest was completed the expected happened: the mother laid eggs that she then kept warm while she perched herself atop all four of them. During this process, the weather underwent all kinds of changes including strong winds, rain, a threatened tornado, and cold weather. Yet, the nest, the eggs, the mother and the father remained firmly planted. Mother and father alternated watching the nest and hunting for food with which to nourish themselves.

One fine morning we looked up and saw the tiny heads of baby birds arising above the rim of the nest. We watched with fascination as the mother brought her babies all kinds of food with which to feed her babies. The babies grew bigger and stronger until we noticed the babies were outside the nest, flying and, finally, gone. Now, the nest is empty and, in a peculiar way, we both understood, once again in our lives, just what is meant by the "empty nest."

During the weeks that this was happening I got to thinking about us human beings and our struggles. The birds did not stop to question the meaning of life or whether or not it was worth going on. There was no pause, that I could detect, to think about suicide. Instead, the birds went about their chores efficiently, and carefully. They guarded the lives of their young, protected one another and the nest and, finally, allowed the mature "babies" to fly off, on their own.

In fact, I had to laugh at myself as I heard myself say to my wife, "but, they're so young!!!"

We are told there are not miracles. We are told that life is scientific and there is a reason and explanation for everything. Yet, to me, what was happening on our back porch seemed like a miracle. Please remember, I am a man who, with his wife, raised two children. We also raise dogs, so that, I am not unaware of nature and the cycle of life.

The question I have struggled with, since watching this incredible act unfold in the nest, is " why is it that us human beings tend to not appreciate and value life much more than we do?" I ask this because of the fact that so many of us suffer from depression, attempt suicide, and report that they wish their lives were over. I read, all too often, about people who report feeling empty, purposeless, hopeless and defeated. While some of these people are alone in life, many others are married, have children and belong to families. Why does this happen?

Of course, we have the scientific explanations for depression having to do with everything from genetics to how we were raised and imbalances in our brain chemistry.

I want to suggest another, different explanation: Perhaps we do not take the time to stare with awe and wonder at the birds building nests, the changing seasons with the reawakening of life during spring. I remember a song written and sung by Charles Aznavour, a French popular singer who was at the height of his career during the 70's and 80's, who asked, "Do your hear the children playing, do your hear the birds singing...yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come, live Today."

The great Buddhist writers discuss the importance of taking in and living life now, in the moment, instead of ruminating about the past or planning about tomorrow.

I direct you to a wonderful Buddhist writer, Thich Nhat Hanh, whose works are very available and very, very readable and enjoyable. We need these messages. We need to be reminded of the importance of living today. As Thich Nhat Hanh states, "when he is washing the dishes, that is all he focuses on...he does not rush to get them done or think about what he will do next...No, these moments of washing the dishes will never be lived again, so that is where he the moment.

We all need to listen.

What are your comments?


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Lovely, however... - Julie C. - Jul 14th 2008

Luckily robins have very small brains and likely do not have the ability to feel depression or emotions of any kind.

If learning to be grateful and to "live in the moment" was all it took to cure major depression I believe most people would be cured by now. It just isn't that easy unfortunately. When you have a family history of depression, obviously genetic, where 4 relatives (that I know of) have committed suicide and many others struggle each day just to keep going...anti-depressants help, exercise helps, having loved ones around help but a sense of well being and real happiness may not be possible for some.

life is too short ! - Fatma - Jun 16th 2008

Just by reading the article you have written, made life colorful all over again even if it'll last for few hours till we get too invovled in the routine of life once again, life is indeed a blessing and being able to live the moment is no that easy but still is possible and so worth it. Thank you :)

Fatma, Sultanate of Oman

You're Right - Deb L - Jun 10th 2008

Your vivid, heart-warming story about the robins beautifully captures your sentiment. I've also had many experiences like that, where I would be in just the frame of mind to appreciate those "miracles of nature" that we so often take for granted. You're right, it's important every now and then to just stop and enjoy those small miracles.

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