Nothing brings my mind back into the present like watching birds. Any cute and social animal can do, but birds have a special place in my heart.
I was walking one day with my boyfriend, battling OCD’s nonsensical activation of my sympathetic nervous system, and was failing to enjoy the beautiful morning around me. Nothing was actually wrong. My brain was just running that all too familiar “software”, as my therapist calls it, stirring up the physiological sensation of the sky falling when it was actually a beautiful blue sky with fluffy clouds. I tried to focus in on the present: feel the sunshine, listen to my boyfriend, but pressing the ignore button and shooing away OCD thoughts usually just makes them worse. I could feel my brows furrow and my chest tighten. I could feel myself growing tired and disappointed that I would fritter away another beautiful weekend. Then, it happened. We passed a pond with ducks.
And presto! I unconsciously achieved, without any effort, that beautiful state we always try to get ourselves into when fighting anxiety with candles, music, meditation, and yoga: peace and joy.
Have you ever tried to watch ducks? Ducklings? Birds in general? I don’t need any binoculars or a conspicuous hat. I just need a place close to nature (sometimes I stretch that to mean my backyard or a city park). My favorite is to visit this particular man-made pond at night, with a fountain nearby and water trickling over a bed of rocks. The sound is soothing, and the sight of tons of ducks congregating under the moonlight and settling into groups to sleep makes all the anxiety and noise of the world go away. You realize that in this moment, the sky isn’t falling. The world, when you quiet your mind and look around, is really okay. I think part of it may be that when I observe animals in their daily lives, I think of one of my favorite memory verses:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” – Matthew 6: 25-27 (NIV)
I could argue with myself and kill the moment, reminding myself that humans have evolved into highly complex social beings and that the lives of ducks are not comparable to our own; if you look at other primates, you’ll see stress too! BUT instead, I choose to acknowledge that everything is going to be okay, because if that mallard and her ducklings can survive and thrive without a career, a house, or a fantastic economy, than certainly I too will survive. When I break down my irrational and anxious thoughts, the underlying theme I see is that they all seem to say “I am not safe”. I have no concrete reason to think so, other than the uncertainty of life. Think of how uncertain the lives of animals are! When I see that all of those ducks have made it through the day, with more uncertainty than the average human, I can’t help but feel like everything will be ok.
And of course, finally, there is the fact that ducks are just so darn cute!
So what to do when I need cute fuzzies, but I don’t have access to nature?
That’s when I break out Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl: http://animal.discovery.com/tv-shows/puppy-bowl
Or spend too much time on National Geographic looking at pictures and videos of baby animals: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/
I’ve even changed my computer theme so that my workspace is filled with soothing cuteness: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/themes