In my post on birds and attention to the present moment in Aldus Huxley’s Island, I mentioned that I was going to Google “mindfulness + birding” and write another post on what I found. It took me a while, but I finally did just that–and definitely found some interesting internet resources! As I assumed, many, many people have written about the connection between watching birds and fostering a state being alive in the present moment. Here are some of my favorites:
Bird Therapy is a blog specifically dedicated to “the therapeutic benefits of birdwatching,” based on the blogger’s personal experiences with using birding to help mitigate the negative impacts of OCD, anxiety, and depression on his daily life. The blogger’s ultimate goal is to put together a book on the positive impacts of birding on mental health, including input from other bird lovers. Anyone can contribute to the project by filling out an anonymous online survey. He also has a blog post on mindful birding per se and a series of posts on “the 5 ways to well-birding,” based on the Five Ways to Wellbeing: connect, be active, take notice, learn, and give. I love these ideas.
This blog post is an interview with the author of Birding with Buddha, which is available as an ibook. She describes birding as a “contemplative practice” which “enabled a direct perception of interconnectedness. It demands full presence, an openness to whatever happens, and a suspension of judgement. Yet it richly rewards those qualities.” The interview includes a discussion on the risk of focusing too much on identifying and naming species, at the detriment of truly seeing them. This is a topic that resonates a lot with me (I even wrote a college essay on a similar theme in reference to Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire). I have never kept a life list because, for me, seeing birds as individuals has always been more exciting than checking a species off a list. In the interview transcript, they include an incredibly apt quote from Gary Snyder: “To see a wren in a bush, call it “wren” and go on walking is to have (self-importantly) seen nothing. To see a bird and stop, watch, feel, forget yourself for a moment, be in the bushy shadows, maybe then feel ‘wren’–that is to have joined in a larger moment with the world.” Yes. That.
In this article in the Lion’s Roar magazine, the author describes a moment in which she looked out the window during a boring college class and saw a bird on the windowsill. She says “the bird woke me up to the present moment. It was inevitable: I became both a Buddhist and a birdwatcher.” In the article, she goes on to retell several stories about Buddha and birds: Siddhartha and the Swan; The Golden Goose; The Rooster of Attachment; Peacock in the Poison Grove; The Bird that Stormed Heaven; Ikkyu’s Crow. The story retellings are brief, but pair well with the author’s personal story.
The Mindful Birding project takes the word “mindful” in a slightly different direction (although they have a great page with many definitions of the word); their primary focus is on fostering an ethical birding community. In their words, their goals are to “(1) increase awareness of ethical birding guidelines, (2) increase the conservation contributions from America’s birders and birdwatchers, and (3) encourage the practice of mindfulness among birders.” They go on to describe a Mindful Birder as “one who is aware of (a) the needs of wildlife; (b) his or her safety and the safety of others nearby; (c); the ways he or she may influence the experiences of others (both birders and non-birders); (d) his or her personal birding experience; and (e) the role he or she can play in advancing bird conversation.” As someone who has always had a little bit of trouble with the idea of driving long distances to chase rare birds, and who has encountered the occasional rude birders, I think the ideas behind the Mindful Birding project are incredibly important, and I hope it catches on! (Interestingly, though, they trademarked “Mindful Birding;” I assume only with both words capitalized? I’m not certain how I feel about that…).
One of the most interesting things this little internet search made me realize is the extent of the synergy between mindfulness and birding: long-time birders are re-defining their hobby with the frame of mindfulness, and people interested in mindfulness are discovering birding as a new way of appreciating the world around us. This is also creating exciting partnerships. For example, Mass Audubon and the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health are partnering for a 3-night workshop on Birding and Mindfulness, in Spring 2017. I have a feeling that more events like this are going to pop up–and that is definitely a good thing.