Hello and welcome to this glorious Friday, May 21, 2021. Today is a rare and precious day that will never come again.
This week’s essay is dedicated to the birds.
Following a crisis in 2008 that was largely self-imposed, I had the privilege of starting my life over. We can honestly do this at any time. I started my transformation by returning to school.
In 2009, I re-entered college with a desire to learn more about the natural world and either engage in a biology career studying the environment or teach others about it as a professor. My ecology advisor, Pat! (the exclamation is intentional), is an avid bird enthusiast. It was Pat! who ignited in me a fascination with our avian family.
I took pride learning the names of every bird I saw. Over time, and I never saw this happening, I became less interested in the more common birds and spent my days seeking “lifers” (species never before seen), rare birds, and other exotics. Today, I find that I appreciate them all. I suppose I have a few favorites. Nevertheless, my appeal to the ornithological world does in fact help me to develop a closer relationship with the natural world that I always appreciated and explored, but never really tried to understand our intimate relationship.
My other focus in college was on environmental studies. My advisor, Dr. John, introduced me to our moral responsibility to protect this rare and precious world. In these studies, I learned how many of the actions carried out by humans are responsible for climate change, coral bleaching, and the extinction of hundreds of plants and animals, each year! Including birds. I also learned about the importance of biodiversity. It turns out that our happiness and well-being is at least in part dependent upon the resilient stability of biodiverse ecosystems. Recent studies have shown that people are happier when they live near an abundance of different species.
As we continue to transform our shared environment to something we feel is more suitable to the human species, through the loss of biodiversity, we weaken the ecosystem making it more susceptible to catastrophic environmental collapse – an unlivable planet.
My focused attention on our moral responsibility toward environmental reform consumed my interest and I temporarily set aside “birding.” I also let go of my plans to biologize and I entered the world of environmental ethics in grad school. It was also during this time that I discovered the deeper benefits of a Mindfulness practice. Mindfulness seemed to have all the components of living an environmentally ethical life – one that is less destructive to this beautiful blue ball hurling through space at 200,000 mph!
When I finished with school and reflected on what I had learned from my tenure in academics and from a comprehensive Mindfulness practice, it is blindingly visible to me that our current environmental destruction is largely brought about by [collective] inner turmoil and discontentedness – the outer environment is a clear and accurate reflection of our inner environment. The outer environment is kind of a mess. I believe that until we can better understand and befriend ourselves, we will continue to face challenges safeguarding our home.
As many of you know, I have re-engaged with “birding.” This time, with a camera in hand. Though I can’t say it was intentional, I have found that by sharing the wonder and beauty of the bird world through my photographs, I have inspired others to be more aware of the bird diversity around them.
What we pay attention to grows and expands. The more I pay attention to birds and their dwindling habitats, the more I’m inspired to be active in conservation efforts. If this works on me, it may in fact help others to see the importance of protecting bird diversity. These conservation efforts help to ensure our own survival.
And while this essay is for birds, it isn’t just about the birds.
Bird photography has taught me a lot about myself and has helped me to become a more mindful person. Just as Mindfulness of breath meditation does, curiously watching birds helps to develop my attentional skills. My interest in these winged humans is like an attention magnet – my awareness is focused and I am distracted by little. I’m learning that whatever I’m deeply interested in captures my attention.
Can you imagine what would happen if we could develop this same level of curiosity and interest towards washing dishes, cooking, folding clothes, driving, our jobs, and especially towards our relationships? Imagine if we engaged in our relationships with the same intense interest that we have for our hobbies. Imagine the depth of intimacy that is possible with your friends, loved ones, and family.
I’m not suggesting here that everyone grab a camera and start photographing birds. It’s not about the birds. It’s about developing your attention so that you are better equipped to engage more deeply in whatever is important to you. My family, my dearest sweetheart, my work, my friends, my cats, my sobriety, my life, our planet, these are all important to me. Taking pictures of birds helps me better tend to all these other areas of my life with more attention and intention.
This week is an invitation to engage in practices, hobbies, and activities that help to develop your attention.
You are Loved by me, Unconditionally!
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