The Giant Peng Bird - A story for artists
In the desolate Northern Sea, there is a fish. Its name is Kun. The size of the Kun is thousands of miles long. No one knows exactly how big it is.
The Kun transforms into a bird. The name of this bird is Peng. The size of the Peng is so great that no-one knows exactly how large it is. It's incredible wingspan is thousands of miles wide.
The ocean begins to heave when the great winds blow across the waves. The might of this powerful wind is such that it allows even the Peng bird to take flight.
The giant Peng spreads its massive wings and splashes water to a height of three thousand miles. The wings generate a hurricane force, allowing the Peng to ride it up toward the sky until it is ninety thousand miles above the ocean.
The Peng is in full flight. Its wings are like the clouds that hang from the sky. Its destination is the Southern Sea - the heavenly ocean of brightness.
Way down below, a cicada and a little bird laugh at the Giant Peng flying overhead. The little bird says, “Look at me. I fly all out and stop when I get to a tree. Sometimes I can’t fly up quite so high and have to drop down to the ground. What’s the use of rising up ninety thousand miles and then flying toward the Southern Sea?"
Taken from The Tao of Daily Life, by Derek Lin.
In this story, the Kun fish represents your soul in an unrealised state. The fish doesn’t yet know what he is truly capable of, so he swims around in the bottom of the cold, dark sea. One day, he glimpses a different reality. He realises that he is capable of a lot more. His soul has changed because he’s seen that he has unlimited potential inside of him. There’s no going back once he realises this - he can never be satisfied swimming around aimlessly in the dark , cold ocean again. He prepares himself, undergoes a great change and one day, the winds of opportunity blow, and he’s able to soar up to greater heights. He’s becoming all that he is meant to be, self actualising to his full potential.
The little bird and the cicada watch him, but they don’t understand what the Peng bird is doing. They don’t see the purpose of living a life that strives for the self actualisation of his full potential. They’re still playing small, laughing at and criticising the bird who takes flight and reaches for so much more.
For artists - what stage are you in?
I believe that this story plays itself out in our lives in many smaller ways too. Your sacred journey in life might not be to become the worlds next Dostoyevsky or Da Vinci, but you’ll recognise your art self in some element of the story.
Many artists are still in the Kun stage - creating often but swimming around blindly in the Northern Sea with no real idea of their true potential as artists.
Some have already begun their great metamorphosis and become aware of their potential and their dreams about where they want their art to take them, and they’ve committed themselves to this change. The’ve glimpsed something bigger with regards to their art-self, and they’re waiting for the right moment to take off and soar.
Some have already transformed into the Peng bird, and they’re soaring, well on their way to the beautiful Southern Sea. For these artists, art serves a bigger purpose - it can be teaching or using art as a form of spiritual development. Perhaps they’re committed to healing others with art, or to bringing beauty into the world or using their art in some way to help others. Whatever their bigger purpose is, they’re enjoying the greater benefits and satisfaction of making art because they’re committed to their bigger purpose.
The Cicada and the little bird
There are also some people who are the Cicada and the little bird - they haven’t glimpsed the truth yet, that there is more to each and every one of us, so they are still small minded and petty but big-mouthed. These are the people who create mindlessly, copying others, stealing their ideas and designs, trolling artists on social media or criticising from their comfortable couch. These people are not artists yet, but I believe that some of them would like to be. They simply lack the courage to give it a go. Once they do, perhaps they’ll start their journey - as a Kun fish. And of course, some of them have nothing to do with art - think of all the '“helpful criticisers” in your life who know nothing about art but always have something to say about it.
What really matters
Each one of you will know which stage of the journey you’re in. It doesn’t really matter if you’re still in the Kun stage of unrealised potential, or if you’ve taken flight and are soaring on the wings of artistic success (whatever that means to you) and satisfaction. Perhaps you’re in the middle, undergoing your metamorphosis, waiting for the opportunity to take flight. What matters is that once you become aware of your true potential, there’s no turning back.
You can’t know that you’re capable of much bigger things in your art, and then return to being small. It’s unnatural - things do not grow backwards.
I think the hardest thing for all of us is to be brave enough to take flight when the opportunity comes, and to allow ourselves to become what we’re capable of becoming.