To start this exercise, please find a comfortable position in your chair, on your deck, in bed, on your yoga or meditation mat, or wherever you find yourself reading this post. If that doesn’t feel like a place where you have space to yourself to just be for some moments, try to relocate to find a little sanctuary for yourself.
Once you have settled in, start by noticing any sensations you are feeling in and around your body. How are you feeling supported by your chair? Bed? Mat? Are you in a position of openness and strength? Give yourself a little adjustment as needed to better support your core and open up your chest and posture. Take stock of aches, pains, discomforts, and draw your attention to parts of your body that might be feeling okay or even strong.
As you welcome yourself into your space, what do you notice you are feeling and thinking? Do you notice a lot of thoughts tweeting about? Emotions flapping about? Catchy songs that are sticking with you?
Pick out a thought, feeling, or sensation in your body or brain. Be with it for a moment. What is the quality of the thought, feeling, or sensation? Is it expansive? Warm/cold? Focused somewhere? Deep or surface level? Is it hard to locate or moving or static?
What color would it be if you were to give it a color?
Taking stock of all of these qualities that you have noticed about your chosen internal experience to focus on, what bird do you think it would be? If you don’t feel like you know many birds that might relate to what you are feeling, release yourself from struggling to identify something. Choose something you know, even if it doesn’t feel perfect. (Our state bird is the Cardinal..try that out!) Think of this bird’s character or give it some character. Is this bird elusive? Spirited? Frenzied? Sluggish? Hungry? Flighty? Resting in its nest? Watchful on a branch? Soaring and scanning? Allow yourself to notice all these aspects of your bird.
Imagine that your bird can be viewed from your window or deck with the naked eye. What can you notice about its coloring, its feathers and the way it interacts with the rest of nature? Notice the color patterns, the beak, the shape of its wings. As you pay attention…what song do you notice it is singing? Does it feel like it is calling to you? Alerting you of danger? Is it attracting other birds to join in? How does its song fit in with the rest of the songs you might be noticing around you? Let’s be with that for a moment.
Using our same curious mind that is noticing that bird of our choosing, let’s take out our binoculars and go in for a little closer look. Let’s really focus on our bird. Does it feel like you are able to adjust your binoculars to see your bird clearly? Give yourself some time to see if you need to adjust your lens to fully locate your bird and see it in full detail. With the enhanced detail what do you pick up on? What is the color of its eyes? What are its facial features? Sharp and determined? Soft and relaxed? If you were to zoom in further on its beak, how do you notice that it calls out when singing its song? Is it distressed? Patient? Content? Hurried?
What is your experience zooming in on your bird? What do you notice about the other birds and songs around you? Maybe they fade a bit as you focus in…maybe they make it difficult to fully concentrate and locate your bird. Take as much time as you would like with your bird observing different qualities that it has.
When you are ready, allow yourself to place your binoculars down and be with your surroundings again. Your bird, the other birds around you, the sounds, smells, and sights you’re seeing. What was it like noticing your bird(s)? What is it like for you noticing yourself as a birder?
Allow yourself to carry that birder part of you with you as you continue to move through your day and observe your inner world. You have the capacity to observe your internal world with as much curiosity as you do your external world.
If you are so inclined, take this metaphor a step further and draw or write out your bird’s profile in your own field guide. What is the taxonomy of your bird? What are the descriptors you would include? How would you document your bird’s features? Is it part of a family of birds? Maybe the different birds within the family share characteristics but have their own subtle differences? (Think, the differences between grief and sadness, or guilt and shame, or how anger or frustration shows up for you). Here is my example.
Please use my audio recording if you would prefer to be able to close your eyes, hear my super therapeutic voice, or immerse yourself in this exercise in a different way. If this type of guided visual exercise isn’t up your alley, stay tuned because I will be posting other exercises and pieces that may feel better accessible if you have difficulty visualizing things in your head or are not sure if mindfulness is for you.