Look up in the sky to experience a fresh way to practice mindfulness: through birdwatching! It’s amazing how the fluttering of feathers can ground you so deeply to the earth. Birding is a marvelous way to draw your attention to the present moment which is exactly what mindfulness is all about. Mindfulness doesn’t only have to be about sitting on a meditation cushion. As we go about the business of living our lives, our feathered friends can invite us to enter the gloriousness of the present moment. Here’s a little story about how I made this delightful connection.
Birdwatching & Mindfulness
On the way home from the grocery store, I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition. Scott Simon interviewed a couple who had devoted their lives to bird-watching. I was driving on Okeechobee Road at the time. One side of this 6 lane street is a cement-laden commercial and industrial zone. The other side borders a canal where you can spot an occasional iguana sunning himself. I was driving on the lane closest to the canal and as I listened to the report, my eyes scanned the greenery for birds. I saw a few, the regulars. I don’t know their names, but as I listened to the report I began to think maybe I should learn more about them.
Simon asked the couple if there was a particular breed they had always longed to see, a “white whale” in their birding lives. They answered no; their favorite bird was always the one in front of them in the moment. What a lovely answer, I thought. They explained that the average bird watcher hasn’t seen the variety that they have, so it is quite a thrill to spot a cardinal in their backyard.
This got me thinking about all the birds that migrate to Miami. Living here affords me an easy opportunity to see amazing tropical birds as well as just about every species in North America during the winter migration. In January, flocks swarm telephone wires and open fields. Every year I look forward to the return of the snow birds. My newly toddling one-year old loves to embark on a classic, but futile chase.
Suddenly I was struck with an idea: I should become a bird-watcher! So many species live or visit here. They are so beautiful, so free. An image of myself identifying a species from a beautiful, Darwinian drawing in my backyard flashed in my mind. I could see myself pointing to the bird in the tree and the bird in the book to Max. Ah, bird-watching could even make me a better mom. Brilliant!
A moment later, my hope fell. It would take a fair amount of study to identify breeds on the spot before they flew away. My starting point of knowledge is minuscule. Sure I can distinguish between a flamingo and a penguin, but not a robin from a mocking bird. It occurred to me how little I know about birds. My constant thirst for knowledge means I always want to know a lot about a lot, but I’m not ready to allocate my precious free time to ornithology. The program ended. The moment passed. There was something else to hear, to consider. And yet…Life is not an all or nothing proposition.Click To Tweet
A bird flew overhead. It was beautiful. I thought to myself, I want birds in my life. Life is not an all or nothing proposition. I didn’t share the same passion of the bird-watching couple, but I could share in their appreciation. I am currently working on my New Year’s Resolutions (Yes, I am the one person on earth who actually writes and fulfills them.), so I wrote in my journal:
3. Notice birds.
This is not the kind of resolution to procrastinate. It’s not like I wrote, 3. Lose 10 lbs. That I may even delay it until Chinese New Year’s Day, because it involves effort and a painful change in habits. Birdwatching is easy, so I started straight away. A week of seeing and listening to birds has already given me a glimpse of a surprisingly profound change in my perspective.
Two things will happen when I see bird for the rest of my life. First, it will capture my attention. Rather than blending into the background scenery of my life, my eyes now pick up on fluttering feathers and I take note. When I see a bird, I actually look at it. I smile. Frequently, I take a moment to marvel at them. My life is more beautiful because of this simple, conscious choice of perception.
The second thing that happens when I see a bird is that I am reminded to live more deliberately. I doubt that there were more birds in my neighborhood on Sunday versus Saturday, but I saw more. I am choosing to look. I am directing my gaze which absolutely changes the way I see the world. Seeing is always changing. By noticing birds, I am subtling changing my life.Directing your gaze changes the way you see the world.Click To Tweet
I once attended a meditation workshop by Cyndi Lee, a world renowned yoga and meditation teacher. During her instructions, she directed us to focus on our breath. When we noticed our attention wandering, we were to simply label that “thinking” and redirect our minds back to our breath. There was a lot of discussion about this practice, and I started to get confused. It prompted me to ask, “Is the goal of this meditation to be better at holding our attention longer, or in getting better at redirecting it back to our breath?”
She liked my question and explained that the act of meditation is “to place our thoughts,” so actually the practice of redirecting our thoughts was the purpose, not holding them.
Hmm, I needed to ponder that for awhile. I needed to connect that to what I had already learned through my yoga and meditation practices.
The most powerful aspect of yoga for me is that whatever happens on the physical, or gross, level also occurs on the spiritual, or sublime, level. And vice versa. Simply put, if you need more balance in your life, practice balancing poses. If you need to be stronger, assume the posture of a warrior. Although postures appear to be about the body, there is a spiritual component that happens as well. Practice making your body more flexible and that will result in making your heart and mind more flexible too. I have experienced and witnessed this countless times in my decade as a yoga instructor.
My resolution to notice birds operates on the same principle as the practice of meditation although they occur on different energetic levels. They are both the conscious act of redirecting our attention, a reminder to live our lives with intention.
We Choose Where to Place Our Thoughts.
At this very moment…
Birds are flying overhead. Children are examining an earthworm squirming on the pavement. The car is running low on gas. A deadline is looming. Sunlight is catching the veins of a leaf. A key ingredient for dinner was forgotten at the store. The laundry stinks. The baby’s diaper stinks. The refrigerator beeps a reminder that the door was left open.
What to see? I could look anywhere.
I notice the birds. I notice my breath. I notice myself living my life.
A moment of timelessness enters my busy day through the wings of a blackbird.
My phone rings. Jack takes a tumble. I attend to these things. I am mother and my attention is needed, but in between the little voices calling my name, I redirect my gaze.
I see a bird. I notice him.
I place my thoughts and find a spaciousness inside of them for me to breathe.
Namaste, bird. Namaste.
Take it a Step Further
If you want to see more birds in your life, makes some birdseed ornaments to attract some feathered friends.
Do you need help to stop worrying, so you can be happier? We’ve got that too.