Switching the Bubbles
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.