‘Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet’ – Thich Nhat Hanh
I’m halfway through an 8 week mindfulness course as part of my ongoing therapy. This is provided by the Wellbeing Service and is difficult to get a place on (I’d been waiting 6 months); as not only are they very popular but they are also only suitable for those in a ‘good place’ with their mental health and wellbeing.
John Kabat-Zinn, on whose work most modern mindful stress-reduction therapies are based, defines mindfulness as “Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” When applied to birding practice there are evidently interesting links and benefits. I’ve long thought that when I’m out on a birding jaunt I am practising mindfulness. To some degree this viewpoint was accurate, however as I have learnt more about the art and practice of being mindful; the more I have learnt how it can be applied to my own birding experiences.
Visually stimulating as birding is, when your line of vision is cocooned by your binocular barrels the distractions of the peripheral world are temporarily blocked out; meaning that your entire focus is on the subject of your gaze… nothing else. Take the Yellowhammer singing atop a tree in the middle of part of my patch, Buxton Heath.
“I become enveloped by the intricacy of this mustard-coloured marvel of nature. The russet caramel tones woven into its feather markings, the mechanical action of its bill as it sings that familiar melody of the farmland.
Even more wonder can be experienced from birdsong. Last week I heard my first singing Chiffchaff of Spring It took me by surprise as it burst, somewhat muffled from a thicket overhanging a stream near the local sewage works. The disyllabic, sharp song resonated over the sound of water rushing from an effluent pipe, it resonated over the zipping of a tit-flock roving overhead… It resonated over everything.”
Sounds are as personal and interpretational as sights, yet if you focus on that fleeting sound for what it is…nothing but a sound… then its intrinsic beauty can be found.
The layers of sound that can be experienced when out among natural surroundings, is phenomenal. The babbling of a brook, the whispering of reeds, birds calling… singing. We are surrounded by sounds and it is important to recognise their beauty.