The Hungry Ghost
Why the Ostriches have their Heads in the Sand
I was raised by a Mother who was a storyteller and I have always loved hearing stories. Often I learn more from hearing what a frog or horse does when facing a challenge in a story, than by someone telling me what the best thing to do is. The crazy creatures of Dr. Seuss' imagination certainly helped me learn how to live in this interesting world.
From my love of stories I naturally became a storyteller. I am sharing some of my stories here - and hopefully when I learn more about blogging I might even try sharing them that way. -
enjoy - Jan O
I have a short piece in the 2012 Redwood Writer's anthology in honor of Jack London entitled
Call of the Wild http://redwoodwriters.org/publications/vintagevoices/
also available at Gaia's garden in Santa Rosa
Ever wonder why some people keep searching for what is right there in front of them? Or why you feel empty inside, even when there are people around you who care about you? See if Coyote or Bear or Badger can help you or just read a fun tale.
The Hungry Ghost
Jan Ögren, MFT
Once a long, long time ago, before humans walked on the earth, all the animals came together for a gathering. They loved the earth they lived on and the sky they lived under, but they were curious and full of questions. Why were they here on this planet? What was the purpose of their life? They assembled in a large meadow that was so gigantic there was room for all the animals. The giraffes came, the deer, the rhinoceros, and the panda bears. All kinds of cats wandered in, followed by jumping kangaroos. Mice and snakes crawled in, while owls and all the birds flew over them into this great open circle. On one side of the meadow ran a river that emptied into the sea. Not only fuzzy, furred and feathered creatures of the earth, but all the wet and watery beings, also joined together.
Once they had all arrived, they sent their voices up in a massive cry to the Creator of all life, whom they called the Great Spirit, to ask why they were here on this earth. There was a tremendous clamor of brays, clucks, barking and hooting. Then the noise drifted away across the plains and echoed against the mountains, calling out the questions: “Why? Why this world? Why us? Why are we here?”
Into the stillness the Great Spirit came. Each creature could hear in his or her own language the Great Spirit saying to them: “I heard your cry carried by the tallest trees and whispered on every wind. I will help you to understand why each of you is alive on this earth. But I cannot explain it in simple terms. The reason is too beautiful and wondrous for mere words. It must be a special answer that is unique for each of you,” the Great Spirit said looking directly at every being in the meadow, the sky and the river. “And each of you must perform a task to learn why you are here.” Special bags appeared beside everyone. They were in all the colors of the earth: browns, blues, greens, pinks and purples. They were made of a soft velvety material, and could shrink into a tiny ball, that could fit into a paw or claw, or be opened up large enough for that individual animal to crawl inside. They were so strong that when the wolf tried fitting inside his bag, his claws did not tear the sides. And the elephants’ tusks didn’t harm their sacks either. Each bag, when not being stretched or shrunk, was the exact right size for each animal, bird or fish to easily carry with them. If humans had existed then, their sacks would have been about the size of a large pillow case.
"Your task is to fill up your sack by living in this world, and paying attention,” the Great Spirit continued saying to each of them. “You will see wondrous sights and sometimes you will find great piles of such marvels of food, jewels and beautiful objects, more bountiful than you have ever seen before. You must fill up your sack with these gifts that have been left out for you. When your sack is full, you will have an understanding of why you are here.”
All the creatures puzzled over these words from the Great Spirit, except Coyote, who had stayed on the very edge of the meadow. As soon as he heard those words, Coyote jumped up, grabbed his sack and ran off into the woods. As he slipped away from the other creatures Coyote said to himself, "I'm going to be the first one to fill up my sack. Everyone will be so impressed when I come back with my sack completely full. I’ll have more than everyone else. I'll win."
While Coyote was dashing off to get ahead of all the other animals, he did not hear the Great Spirit's last words. "The great mounds of treasures will only appear at certain times. They will not last long. Even as you are still admiring them, they will start to vanish. Do not worry if you do not understand at the beginning. As your sack slowly fills up you will begin to understand more and more." As these last words were said, the Great Spirit drifted away, leaving them to talk about what they had heard.
While the other animals were looking at their multicolored sacks and puzzling over the Great Spirit’s words, Coyote was running through the woods as fast as he could. He spun around a corner and there between two small willow trees, the sun sparkled off a pile of pretty jewels, crystals and gold. Not only were there beautiful treasures, but it was also packed with good things to eat. There were also many gifts that were neither food, nor jewels, but Coyote did not stop to wonder what these things were. He was busy scooping as much as he could into his sack, as fast as he could. "I can fill my whole sack from just this one pile!” he bragged to himself. “All the other animals will admire me and think I’m the best when they see me come back with it filled already."
As he daydreamed about all the praise he would receive, he did not notice that he was no longer alone in the woods. A Hungry Ghost had seen Coyote near the pile and had come closer to find out what Coyote was doing. Instead of a face all Hungry Ghosts have is one very large mouth with a gray, filmy shadow blowing behind, like an enormous stomach. Having such a huge mouth and stomach they are always hungry and they never fill up. They eat everything: food and feelings, things and thoughts. Like all ghosts, they are hard to see, and the Hungry Ghost is the hardest to see of all, because it likes to sneak in and steal from creatures. They have no hands so the only way they can only feed is if they can trick someone into throwing things into their large mouths.
The Hungry Ghost saw a great chance for a meal so it chewed through the bottom of Coyote's sack and put its mouth right where the end of the sack was. Coyote didn't notice anything because he was so busy shoveling all the bounty into the sack, and planning how he would announce his success to the others. But something started happening to all the beautiful objects in front of him.
"Stop," Coyote yelled at the pile. "Don't disappear. I haven't taken all of you yet." And he began to work faster and faster. Since he had not heard the end of the Great Spirit's message he did not realize the piles naturally appeared and disappeared throughout the forest.
As the last of the pile vanished, Coyote said smugly to himself, "it doesn't matter. I must have just about filled up my sack. One more pile and it will be done. I'll still be the first." So he looked in to check just how full it was. But instead of seeing a sack of jewels and treasures all he saw was blankness, and a vague form at the bottom that he didn’t recognize as the open mouth of a Hungry Ghost. Since Coyote was no longer feeding it the Hungry Ghost drifted off, leaving a ragged tear at the bottom of Coyote’s empty bag. Coyote felt very angry and miserable since the Hungry Ghost had even eaten Coyote’s feelings of happiness that he’d had while scooping treasures from the pile. “What’s wrong with my sack?” wailed Coyote. “The Great Spirit must have given me a defective one.” He hurriedly stitched up the bottom of his bag. “I’ll be more careful next time.” He said as he finished. Then he ran off so fast he almost bumped into Bear, who was wandering through the forest.
"What's the hurry, Coyote?" yelled Bear. But Coyote was already ten trees away with his sack trailing behind him and a Hungry Ghost flying above him. "Ah, Coyote always seems to be in such a hurry," Bear remarked. As she looked about her, she noticed that the sun was shining down into a small clearing in the woods. "This looks like a good place for a rest," she said as she eased down against a tree, getting a good back rub as she slid down it.
While she was resting, she noticed a glow off to one side through some trees. Curious, she lumbered over to see what it was. There was a mound of good food and flashing jewels just as the Great Spirit had said there would be. "This is magnificent," said Bear to herself. "I couldn't imagine anything so wonderful when the Great Spirit was talking. This whole pile could fill up my entire sack.” She swung her massive head from side to side gazing at the mound of riches. “But, I don't think that's what the Great Spirit meant us to do." So Bear sat down near the pile to admire it, amazed by how large it was. Even though she had heard the Great Spirit say the gifts would soon disappear, she meticulously looked at each fascinating, glorious piece of it until she noticed one especially lovely piece of honeycomb. The honey was such a golden shade and it looked so inviting she decided she would take that one piece.
As she was taking the piece, a Hungry Ghost came by. But when it saw how lovingly and carefully Bear was placing her treasure into her sack, it knew it wouldn’t be able to trick her. Once the honeycomb was laying in the sack the ghost had no hands to try to steal it from Bear. So the Hungry Ghost flew off to see if it could find someone more like Coyote. By the time Bear had arranged the honeycomb at the bottom of her sack and had carefully licked each claw thoroughly, the pile had vanished. So Bear got up and decided to continue her walk through the forest.
The years passed and slowly Bear’s sack began to fill. She added to that first piece of honeycomb, a brilliant yellow jewel that reminded her of the sun, and an opal to remind her of the moon. Then there was a pretty rock that hadn’t been part of a special pile at all, but had glistened at her while she drank from a cool stream. There was a small stick from the first tree her cubs had climbed. And bark from the white willow tree she could chew on when she was feeling ill. All these things, and many more Bear lovingly carried in her sack.
Several times Hungry Ghosts had tried to get Bear to feed them. They would whisper things like, “Hurry up. You don’t have enough. You’re not good enough. Everyone else has more. They’re better than you.”
But Bear would look into her sack and say, “I have many treasures here. I have just the right amount for me.” Then one day she stumbled upon one of the Great Spirit’s treasure mounds at the same time Badger crawled around a bush and spotted it. They both liked hazel nuts and this pile was filled with them. Bear tried to grab as many as she could before Badger ate them all. She didn’t notice a Hungry Ghost attaching itself high on the side of the sack until she had given it almost all the tasty nuts. Since the Hungry Ghost had no hands to take any of the precious objects at the bottom of the sack, it could only inhale the nuts Bear threw into its mouth, thinking she was throwing them into her bag. Badger also had a Ghost attached to his bag and when he and Bear both noticed they had been feeding Hungry Ghosts they sat down and laughed together.
“Well, here’s the last Hazel nut,” said Bear, picking up a nut that had rolled under her bag and giving it to Badger.
“Thank you. And here is one for you that I missed,” remarked Badger plopping a nut into Bear’s mouth.
“Here are two more I missed,” exclaimed Bear tossing them into Badger’s open mouth.
“Wait. Here is a whole bunch of them hidden behind this gold,” announced Badger in a surprised voice. They continued discovering nuts and feeding each other as Hungry Ghosts floated over them, waiting.
“I can’t eat another one,” Bear finally admitted after Badger fed her a really plump one. “What I really need now is a needle and some thread,” she stated holding up her bag to show the hole in the side. “Ah, here is some right here in front of me in the mound.” She happily picked it up and shared it with Badger.
“I’ve never seen one of the Great Spirit’s magnificent mounds stay around so long before,”
remarked Badger, as he sewed up the hole in the side of his sack where the Hungry Ghost had eaten through it.
“I haven’t really been hunting for the special piles of treats anymore,” admitted Bear. “So I don’t know how long they usually stay around.”
“Where did you get so much for your sack then?” asked Badger.
“I seem to find it all over. You probably wouldn’t consider some of it special,” stated Bear, pulling a moss-covered rock out of her bag. “This reminds me of one of the best naps I ever had. All I have to do is put it by my head and the smell and soft touch makes me feel so good that I have the most wonderful dreams while I sleep.”
“Well you don’t have to worry about Hungry Ghosts trying to steal that. I have gotten so tired of having to watch out for them. They seem to cluster around the piles.” Badger shoed one away that flew over the pile. “I don’t understand why the pile is still here. They usually disappear as soon as I start taking things from them.”
“Here,” said Bear handing Badger a paw full of nuts. “Put these in your sack and don’t let the Hungry Ghost near it. Here are some berries to go with it, and some pretty stones and jewels.” Bear continued giving Badger good things to eat and other riches for his collection, while Badger waved off the Ghosts that came around. Then they switched and filled Bear’s bag together. As they finished filling both sacks, the pile disappeared.
“Well, look at that. We stuffed our sacks completely full,” stated Badger. “We have filled them up with friendship, good memories and pieces of the world around us. Do you think that is what the Great Spirit wanted us to learn?”
“Maybe,” Bear said thoughtfully.
Just then a very thin and tired looking coyote wandered into the clearing. “Are there any of those wonderful hoards of food around here?” he asked them hopefully. “The piles don’t like me; they disappear as soon as I start grabbing from them.”
“You just missed one, but I do have some food to share with you,” said Bear. Both she and Badger gave him some of their nuts and berries and Bear even had some honey to offer him. When he was feeling better, Coyote went off to continue his search. Bear turned to Badger and said, “well, now our sacks are no longer completely full. Though for all Coyote ate, it didn’t seem to shrink my treasure too much.”
“I’m actually glad mine isn’t filled up completely anymore. I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t looking for things to put in my collection.”
“Well, Coyote ate enough that we don’t have to worry about that anymore. We can still search for more. Shall we do it together?” suggested Bear.
And the two went off in search of more treasures. To this day Bear and Badger can often be seen casually wandering in the woods together or sharing from their sacks with other animals. But Coyote is most often glimpsed running through the woods, still frantically searching for more and more piles of treasures to stuff into his sack, and the Hungry Ghosts like to follow him wherever he goes.
In honor of my recent trip to East Africa I am sharing this story
Why the Ostriches have their Heads in the Sand
Somehow the story got around that ostriches are sticking their heads in the sand to avoid issues, but to ask an ostrich this is not the reason at all.
It all started a long long time ago in Africa. Ostriches were the wisest creatures around. They had very special abilities. They were the largest birds on the planet, but they did not fly. They had the longest necks to stretch into the sky, the largest feet to walk upon the earth, and the biggest bills to poke into things.
Animals and people would come from all around to ask them questions. The gazelles, who are like deer, would come to them and ask about the weather. An ostrich would stick its neck up into the sky and sniff the winds. Then it would look down at the gazelle and say “there is a storm coming from the east.” Or “It is going to be very hot for a few days.” Sometimes a lion would come and ask about its family that lived far away. An ostrich would stick its neck in the water and listen to the drops talking. Then it would tell the lion “One of the older cubs had hurt his foot in a chase and is limping now.” The humans would also come and ask important questions to the ostriches. Some times they would ask, “Should we have more children now?” and the ostrich would stick his head in the sand and listen to the earth. Then it might say; “I hear the footsteps of many humans, but I do not hear the roots of enough grain growing, if you have children now they will not have enough to eat.” Or they might say “I hear the earth talking about a big fire far away to the east. Have children and send them to the east to help replant after the fire.”
Whatever the question the ostrich would always be able to hear the answer. In fact they prided themselves on always finding the answer, whether they had to put their heads in the air, or in the ground or in the water. They would listen and listen until they knew what the answer was. This was their place among all the animals. They were respected and held in awe because they were so wise and knew so much. Never had there been a question that they could not find the answer for.
Then one day a young hyena, which is kind of like a coyote, came to an ostrich with a question.
“Please sir,” the hyena said politely. “I was wondering about something and I can’t figure it out. Could you help me?”
“Certainly,” replied the ostrich. “I can find the answer to any question.”
“Well this is kind of a hard question.” The hyena said apologetically.
“Nonsense.” Proclaimed the ostrich. “We can find the answer to anything, anything at all. What is your question?”
“ I have been wondering about why am I here? And why am I a hyena? I guess I’m just sort of unsure about it all. I don’t know what the meaning of life is. So I was wondering if you could tell me.”
Now the ostrich pondered that a moment, then decided life comes from the earth so he stuck his head in the sand to listen for the answer.
The hyena waited and waited. Soon some of the other ostriches came around. They had noticed that this one had its head in the sand for a long time. They were concerned that this ostrich was taking too long to give the hyena an answer. After all they had a reputation to uphold and it would not do for all the other animals to see this one taking so long for just a young hyena’s question.
“What did you ask?” they all demanded of the hyena.
“I just wanted to know what the meaning of life is.” Stammered the hyena.
“Well,” they said “it will just take a moment. We will also stick our heads in the sand to find the answer.”
This continued and continued until all the ostriches had their heads in the sand. Pretty soon there were lots of animals waiting to ask them questions. “I want to know if my nephew’s paw is better,” said the lion.
“Is there going to be rain tonight?” asked the gazelle.
“Should we have more children?” questioned the humans.
But no ostrich answered.
Once the animals realized what the question was that the ostriches were trying to answer they started talking among themselves. “Well,” said the Elephant. “They will never find the answer to that question. There is a different answer for each animal, human and tree. They will be stuck there forever answering that question.”
“No” said the tiger. “There is no answer to that question. They will search and search and never find an answer.”
“That’s not the problem at all” said the hawk. “I have flown the skies and I know the answer must be so vast and complex they will spend forever listening to it.”
Whatever the reason all the animals agreed that the ostriches were going to have their heads in the sand for a long time and they were not going to get answers for their questions. Then they did a very unfair thing. They blamed the young hyena for this whole mess. “You should never have asked such a question. What were you thinking? Now we have lost the source of all our answers. It is all your fault!”
The animals started bickering and fighting among themselves. No longer did the humans and other animals know when to have more children and when it will be hot and when a storm was coming. The peace and balance that had been on the earth for so long was lost.
“But wait,” howled the hyena. “Maybe we can work together and find our own answers.” No one listened to him. They were all too mad. And to this day the ostrich still has its head in the sand and the hyena still howls at night trying to convince the other animals to find their own answers.