(Click to enlarge.)
We have this huge human drama of Hope and Despair, but the title suggests we consider the tiny birds. They are looking out at nothing in particular because there is nothing in particular “out there” at which to look. They look in opposite directions because any direction will do. Every way we turn it is the same—Mystery.
The birds are tiny. They are dwarfed by the self-absorbed human drama that similarly absorbs us. We are human, after all. This is why the most obvious of realities, our grounding in nothing fixed and sure, is mostly forgotten; except deep in the heart of our subconscious anguish. The tiny birds represent the useless that Zhuangzi would have us understand as the most useful thing of all. They are the emptiness at the center of Laozi’s wheel that makes the wheel useful. Daoism prioritizes Yin—non-existence, the empty, indefinite, unknowable, mystery—not because it trumps Yang—existence—but because existence wants to forget it. Yet without it we only see half the picture.
This would not be a problem except that it is. Hope and Despair are a couple, but we incorporate them both. And for all her admirable and affirmable ministrations Hope cannot console Despair. Despair is the realist, the honest one. If all were well in the human heart, half the picture or any fraction thereof would be just fine. But this is not the case, and thus a remedy would be helpful. But it cannot be a dishonest and inauthentic remedy—yet another hopeful platitude. It has to be grounded in our obvious groundlessness—our embedding in Mystery.