practicing 10: birdsong soup and the astonishments of just after dawn
there is an art to being still, and i am practicing.
the birth of the day, it seems, is the hour that calls me. and, actually, all i’m going for is a mere slice of that hour. ten minutes, for starters. for beginners like me.
there is little hope, i figure, of trying to squeeze it in, in the thick of the day, between all the rushing and dashing and typing and trolling for words.
and, at the end of the day, when the blanket of stars are out and the house is winding down to a hum, i figure my brain has gone blank, in that numb — not that crisp — sort of a way. or, worse, it’s so overstuffed by that hour that all i’d do is churn and re-churn whatever the day had left in its wake. there’d be no stillness within.
it’s hard enough at the dawn. hard enough to keep the tick-tock at bay.
but i’ve begun.
before the first dabs of light are soaking the low-down sky, i am tiptoeing out of my bed, stumbling downstairs, grinding my coffee beans (a wake-up noise, i tell you, that might be essential, at least till i’m through with the whole-bean bag i didn’t fully intend to grab from the grocery shelf). the cat, always hungry, demands his share of my morning attentions — and a scoop from the tin in the fridge.
then, warm mug cupped in my palms, i reach for the door, and step under the holiest dome, the dome of the dawn as it breaks into double-time spring.
and that’s when it hit me, my first morning out: i’d just stepped into a cauldron of birdsong soup. there were so many layers of so many sounds, coming from so many places, my ears — at first — could barely pick it apart.
there were trills and caw-caws and whistles and chatter. short notes and fat notes. and notes that seemed without end, twisting and tumbling and climbing again. notes most insistent, and notes that dribbled off, into ellipses.
it seemed, pretty much, a gymnastics meet of bird sound. all those itty-bitty throats and tongues and lungs thrusting and lunging, spinning and twirling. all that was missing was chalk dust and numbers pinned to their backs.
and it all, all at once, seemed to be moving, whirling around me, as one song took flight, and soared to a nearby limb. or criss-crossed the sky. or merely hopped down the branch, in search of a cozier, noisier perch.
it was surround-sound at its most heavenly, this ever-circling orchestral creation, powered by wings and lungs whose weights would be measured in grams. a whole-bodied chorister not even one ounce.
and all i knew that very first morning was that everywhere i listened, there was a full-throttle sound track not to be missed. one i’d too often slept through. or, sadder, ignored in my packing of lunches, and checking of schedules.
it wasn’t as if this was new, this spanish moss of bird song, dripping from trees.
it’s been there, just beyond the panes of the windows, the other side of the door.
it was only that i’d not carved out the wisp of an hour, made room for the stillness, so that what was there all along could make its way into my eardrums, and down to my soul.
once my head stopped spinning, i did what any student of stillness must do: i planted myself firmly, solidly, on the seat of the bench in my not-so-secret garden, the one that runs along the kitchen, the one that meanders, the one that catches the morning’s first light.
i tried not to think, just to be. one with the birdsong.
and i started to look, not to glance but to study.
it wasn’t hard, what with the week’s thermometer cranked up to summertime, to notice how spring was galloping out of the ground.
i sat and watched chives grow, those early-spring straight-backed soldiers of pungence, the ones i’m already snipping for lox and sprinkling on cream cheese, not unlike bits of newly-mown grass that i bring in for breakfast.
and then, just down the walk, i spied the bleeding heart. overnight, or so it seemed, it had emerged, a jazz ensemble of cut-leaf precision and a green so velvety green, it made me want to pluck it to wear it. wrap it round my bare shoulders, or better yet make it into a slip and let the morning breeze play between it and my skin.
i have to admit, stillness didn’t come easy. wasn’t a natural fit, not for me, anyways.
before my 10 minutes was clocked, i was itching to dig in the dirt. i’d tallied a list that beckoned me and my ministrations: the climbing hydrangea that needed a lifeguard, weeds that might do with a shrill short blast of a whistle, demanding they stop in their trespassing tracks.
but i also noticed this: the longer you sit in rapt silence, utter attention, the deeper you sink into the whole of it, the line between you and the earth and the sky and the dew all but evaporating.
my next morning out, it was chilly. and a soft morning’s rain added its backbeat to the birdsong. so i sat with my stillness on an old wicker chair, inside the porch with the screens. from across the garden, and under the pines, i listened to raindrops measuring time with the ping-ping-ping from the downspouts.
while it’s not yet under my skin, this time-out for the soul, i can feel it working its way to the wellspring, this sacred act of tiptoeing out of bed to catch the morning unaware.
i’ve a sense that sprinklings of wisdom might fall on that place deep inside where the knowing is.
and in the calm of the dawn, i might remember the words to the prayer that, for too long, have been dimmed. and very much missing.
do you practice stillness? how do you weave it into the hustle and bustle of your everyday?