About ten years ago I was on a family nature walk in Seward Park. My daughter Lucia was about four-years-old at the time and the naturalist leading the hike was a young man who looked barely out of high school. I was a little disappointed. I wondered what I could learn from this young guy. The docent took us along the path pointing out the different barks on the trees, poison oak, variations of ferns and moss. Then he stopped suddenly and became completely silent. We all followed suit, even the kids. After about a minute he said, "No matter where you are in the world, if you stop, be still, and listen, you will hear birds. Even in New York City," he went on, "birds will be there. Birds are everywhere. You just have to stop, be still and listen."
I've followed that naturalist's words at least once a week for the last ten years. He's right. In New York, Chicago, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma..... the birds are always there. Today I am completing the fifth day of a meditation training.* This particular training is about coming back to our true nature by welcoming all our experiences. We get to this, in part by opening all of our senses. The training is at a beautiful retreat center in Northern California. There are deer everywhere, wild turkeys, snakes, lizards, jack rabbits, hawks, owls and so many other birds. For this training, most of the time we're sitting or lying down so every morning for the last five days I've gotten up at 6:30am to walk the hills to prepare my body for the long days of stillness. At 6:30am, when I leave my dorm, the sky is still dark and the sounds of the birds are loud and clear. They too might still be just waking up. In the dark I can't see any of the other creatures, but I can hear the birds.
As I walked the hills at sunrise these last few days, as the sun illuminated the golden grass of the hills, I have spotted deer and a few times, a lucky jack rabbit. I stepped on a snake yesterday and the squirrels, lizards and hawks have been everywhere. This morning I noticed that, as my visual senses came alive with the sunrise, I stopped hearing the sounds of the birds. So as I got to the top of a hill, I closed my eyes and stopped. I stood still. I heard the wind in the grass. I heard the highway in the distance. But I couldn't hear any birds. Just as I began to worry, I heard one. Then I heard many. They were there. They always are.