Mindfulness: A Bird’s-Eye View

by Sandra Bishop

Indianapolis Zoo 07-28-2014 - Budgie 1

I‘ve always kept budgies. They were part of my childhood, my adolescence and young adulthood, and in middle-age they are my here and now. And sitting with my ever-present feathered friends, I learn so much about the practice of mindfulness.

We flock by the window, they on their perch and myself on my chair, as I parrot the words of W.H. Davies:

What life is this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

Together we watch the suburban scene outside, as cars roll by and pigeons strut. The longer I sit, the more I see. Elderflowers bloom, and beyond blossom, tower blocks touch the sky. The postman on his midday route, and dogs on leads, and mams with bright-hued prams. My budgies and I, we watch it all.

In other moments I would, no doubt, analyse and judge the world below. I would look to my lawn and remember how busy life has been, that I have not had time to mow the grass. I’d recall the chores that keep me from the garden, and my worries would start anew. My unbidden, grasshopper thoughts would jump from missteps better left asleep to
misfortunes not yet born.

I’d notice the bare spot in the border, and I’d think “I should buy a new plant. The lavender recommended in Gardeners’ World magazine could be an option. Or maybe I should fill the spot with a bird bath. One of the lovely ornamental ones I saw in the garden centre last month.” 


My grasshopper mind would flit from one possibility to the next, never satisfied and never at rest. And then, overwhelmed with the effort of thinking, I would simply cease to notice the world at all. Not so when I sit with my birds. For they remind me to stop and stare.

From our first floor vantage we watch the world, focused only on the present moment. I notice the empty space in the border, but I neither label it as bad nor good; it just is. Should grasshopper thoughts spring, they do not linger. Momentarily, I ponder buying that new plant, and consider what might happen if I don’t (clue: existing plants will grow to fill the emptiness). And then I brush the grasshopper away. I observe my thoughts as impermanent and passing, like the clouds.

Until, in sudden uprush, birds take wing. Through moment-by-moment awareness of the world outside, my budgies see something I do not,taking cover across the room. They remind me that mindful acceptance is not the same as indifference. Rather, we accept the reality of the moment we are in, and this insight guides our flight.

Described by the nineteenth century ornithologist John Gould as “the most animated, cheerful little creatures you can possibly imagine”, these small,long-tailed parakeets are my comfort and my joy. Small birds with big personalities, that’s what my mother would say. Yet despite the affection I bear them, it often seems that I should spend my time more productively. There’s a house to hoover, bills to pay, an inbox to empty, and family to phone. And as my budgies return to the window, my grasshopper mind pulls me in a thousand directions.

So I focus my gaze on my feathered guides. I direct purposeful attention to their scalloped feathers, sleek and interlaced, with gossamer down beneath. They dance and bob before me, joyfully present in the here-and-now. I notice the sun, warm through the glass, and the hum of a distant lawnmower. Grounded by my senses, I follow my flock, watching the world below. I return to the present moment, and feel once more the palpable, descending calm. For poor life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.

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