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Switching the Bubbles

credit: Roger Guitard

credit: Roger Guitard

I’m hearing a soft, flat whistle from somewhere in front of me, but it’s impossible to tell exactly which direction. Seep! Followed by silence. Something is making the birds anxious enough that they will no longer reveal their location.

Later when we go inside, Jon Young explains that what I heard was a robin alarming. This particular call is strategically difficult to pinpoint. As he pieces together observations from others in the group, a pattern emerges. The alarms and subsequent wave of silence moving across the marsh and meadow most likely coincided with the path of a Cooper’s hawk.

I am at a workshop on bird language led by master tracker Jon Young. Though I’ve long enjoyed watching birds, I am definitely not a hardcore birder, like some of my companions. But this event is not about naming and enumerating. It’s about learning to understand and recognize patterns in the more-than-human world. Attunement. Deep listening.

During the lecture portion, Jon puts up a slide that summarizes what we’re up to. It’s a before-and-after. In the first scene there’s a drawing of a human moving through a landscape. There’s a dotted line around the human like an aura labelled “awareness bubble”. A much larger circle around the person is labeled “disturbance bubble.” In the second scene the bubbles are reversed: The person has expanded their awareness to include much of the landscape they are travelling through, and consequently decreased their disturbance so that is’ limited to their immediate surroundings.

It strikes me that the diagram neatly captures what I’m after in my life: to expand my field of consciousness and minimize my disturbance. This is the core of any earth-based spirituality. I notice that a sense of right action is embedded within it, and that the whole thing relies on and grows out of practice. It’s experiential. This is important. Ecospirituality is not about sky-god abstractions or new age ascension. It is something that is embodied. And so the practice of sitting outside regularly simply to watch and listen is vital because of the way that it mysteriously shifts our consciousness. It expands our awareness and our field of concern, and this is the one thing we humans need most urgently.


  1. Ruth, this post is such a gift! I love the description of the shifting fields or “bubbles” that surround us – “awareness” and “disturbance.” Recently, I’ve been contemplating a sense that I often feel when I’m sitting peacefully outside observing what’s around me. At first, I called it “sadness,” but that didn’t fit. It was neither a positive nor negative emotion – it was more like a state of deep listening. I noticed that birds and squirrels would sometimes come near and “talk” to me or respond to my words, tilting their heads as if really listening. Colors are more intense, the beauty and wonder of clouds passing by overhead deeply touching. I wonder if it’s possible to do if one is surrounded by people…

    • What a beautiful reflection. I have sometimes experienced a deep, open awareness with other people. But I also wonder if it’s possible to maintain that in everyday life.

  2. Wow Ruth this is uncanny. You know Jon Young was in Australia three weeks ago and I went and studied bird language with him?

    My girlfriend Mel and I ran a workshop on it for our community on Sunday. It was amazing to see people really drop in to the land after they sat and observed for half an hour.

    • Wonderful! I hope you enjoyed meeting Jon as much as I did. 🙂

      • I did! I particularly enjoyed witnessing his teaching style, the way he gave us tools to generate knowledge and stories to illustrate what’s possible. Not bombarding us with information.

        • Yes. I had the sense there was a lot going on beneath the surface that was intentional. He created lots of space and a collaborative atmosphere, which I’m sure is part of what he would call “culture repair”.

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