THE BLOG

Beginner's Mind -- Listen

In terms of practicing mindfulness and meditation, I need constant nudging. And recently, over a two-day span, I got a good dose of nudging.

The first was an NPR interview with intense and accomplished choreographer Bill T. Jones. Whenever I hear Jones, I hear someone driving his artistic proboscis into the vein of creative impetus. So basically, he's sharing the fresh blood. His latest work, inspired by John Cage, toys with randomness, and sounds brutal on performers. When asked why he would take on such experimentation, Jones came out with this:

I cannot use being 62 years old as an excuse not to have fresh mind, "beginner's mind."

Amen, Brother.

Working with improvisation, Jones' fluidity shows exactly what 62 years gets you -- he has a perfectly honed tool for expressiveness. While youth may be the optimum time for pushing physical boundaries, when you watch Bill T. Jones, you realize a whole side of the picture goes missing in the higher-faster-harder goal system of youth. Jones reveals that other side: Now, it's time to listen, time to respond to the body-wisdom gleaned from those years of training and limit-pushing. And out falls precision of impact.

Listen, respond -- it starts with sitting

Not long after the Jones interview, I was reading two articles about birding, no less. One article was saying that while we can obtain lots of aggregate data about birds through banding and such, there is something to be said for field research of the painstaking experiential variety done by the likes of Jane Goodall and Jon Young, author of What the Robin Knows (2013). (To this list and tradition, I would mention the once reviled early 20th century Wilderness Ways author, Reverand William J. Long.)

What struck me in this article:

Young emphasizes the importance of spending a lot of time in one place, a "sit spot" listening to the rhythm of bird sounds. He recommends a daily practice and a level of deep concentration almost akin to meditation.

I have noted the warning calls of birds mentioned in the article.

With the large open field at my last home, I could come out at dawn and see four red-tailed hawks perched on the barn roofs, be buzzed in the dark by an owl, hear the high calls of kestrels. I often noted the mobbing behavior mentioned in the birding article. Yes, your instincts detect the alarm in the calls and in the numbers of calls. With luck, I could spot the culprit being mobbed. In the case of crows, the culprit was sometimes me. But while bird feeders outside my window invited many a lazy moment dazzled by incoming color and antics, it never occurred to me to have an outdoor "sit spot."

A clean, well-lighted sit space



When I heard this idea of stationary observation, of cultivating stillness as the diurnal wildlife does its thing around you -- I saw, in an instant, the plastic chair, left in my concrete yard by a previous tenant, in a whole new light: a "sit spot."

My concrete yard has been a major point of dismay since I moved here. I disqualified it from being a space to enjoy, dismissing it as "unnatural." But in fact, my "yard" is overrun with hungry birds, including a flashy woodpecker, and affords a cacophony of birdsong -- an ideal "sit spot." I resolved to take up the practice.

I soon found myself hyperlinked to a story that confirmed my resolve. It was a Nature Conservancy story about Joe Hutto, the man who lived with turkeys, subsequently the subject of a PBS Nature episode.

Hutto talked about how aware turkeys are of aerial predators. Since I once raised turkeys, I have seen the frozen upward stare, one-eyed and cock headed, that Hutto referred to: "I see in them an awareness and a presence that remind me of how relatively dull my own senses are."

Hutto wished he could ask his turkey friends, "What's it like to exist in a state of complete wakefulness? To be the definition of sentient?"

I will let you know how the practice turns out.