Every morning after walking the dogs, I fill the birdfeeder and sit out on my back patio with my coffee and a bowl of bran cereal, no milk, sprinkled with dried cranberries and sometimes a sliced banana, and the birds and I share breakfast.
This regular morning time is my opening time, my quieting time, my daily meditation.
It is the space where I am not in my thoughts, my ideas, my to-dos, but instead, focused on the world outside of me: the sky colors, the array of birds at the feeder, how the pecking order changes from sparrow to mourning dove to pigeon.
But for the past two weeks it has been too cold to sit outside in the mornings and instead, I’ve been having my coffee with my email. Today, it caught up with me.
My head was spinning with too many thoughts: preparations for tomorrow’s workshop, remembering to treat the stain on my brown shirt before doing the laundry, the things I will teach 28 lingerie salespeople about their new iPads, what I will have for lunch, how to structure the next Mac training videos, and on and on.
And I knew I needed to get out of my head or I would spin myself dizzy.
I pulled on my sweatshirt and took my coffee outside. I filled the bird feeder and waited. More thoughts dizzied my head and there was no flurry of flapping at the feeder to distract me. There were no birds at all. I guess they come later when it is this chilly.
So I focused instead on listening.
I heard the cars on 7th Street, a trash truck raising and lowering several blocks away, a string of short, high pitched chirpings in the neighbor’s tree. Then I caught a flash of movement in the mulberry tree. I scanned the bare gray branches and spotted a single towhee perched in stillness, his body puffed up against the cold. I kept my eyes on him but he wasn’t moving, and soon the litany of thoughts started up again.
Several minutes passed before I realized I was no longer watching the bird.
I took a deep breath, consciously following it in and then out, slowly bringing my awareness out of my head and back into my body: me, sitting in my chair, in my yard watching a towhee on a bright winter morning.
I scanned the tree again, looking for the bird. He had moved to a branch closer to the feeder, but he still wasn’t moving much. It took so much concentration to stay with him. I traced the outline of his body with my eyes, discerning the short beak, the flash of brown on his underbelly.
I tuned into the rustling and noticed a second towhee on the ground, pushing the mulch with his feet. His body looked browner in the light, his eye a beady red circle.
The bird in the tree jumped onto the feeder and poked his beak into the filled tube, flinging seeds onto the ground.
I watched them for a while longer, then took my coffee inside to gather my calmer but still swirling thoughts, vowing to sit outside the next morning, and the next again, to begin the practice of quieting.
I don‘t often have this kind of mind chatter. And I’m sure it’s because I have a regular practice of quieting. But, like any practice, if you don’t do it for a while, even a little while, it loses its effect and takes time to get back to it.
It’s the same with a person who goes to the gym regularly. Each time the workout gets easier as you build stamina, endurance. But if you take a month off, you may be surprised that you’ve lost some of your strength.
And so you begin again. Where you are. Without judgment, without impatience or frustration or beating yourself up.
This is the practice.
The more you do it, the more you do it.
And if you find yourself disconnected, pause.
Connect with your breath.
Find something to watch.
Without judgment or thought.
Just detach and connect.
Keep coming back.