Today is the last day of the Great Back Yard Bird Count for 2022. Sitting today at the computer I have a view of our bird feeders less than six feet away, and I have loved counting the familiar birds that appear. Today house finches and mockingbirds have been the most frequent visitors, although an occasional pair of mourning doves have also consistently searched for spilled seed on the ground. The mockingbird puffs up and acts like the king of the feeder, but the smaller house finches are fierce in their determination to reach the seeds despite his aggressive posturing. Just now a Carolina wren has appeared – lovely rich brown with a yellow belly – so cheeky, and in love with the dried mealy worms. The squirrels are in the mix as well, for though we have squirrel-proof feeders, those amazing acrobats have found several ways to defeat the trapping mechanism. Oh well. Squirrels must live, too.
The birds of the air live their lives according to the urges and instincts of their species, knowing when to eat, drink, find a mate, build a nest, raise a family, migrate or not. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a creature driven by instinct rather than by plan or intention. I do not think birds plan, exactly, where to find seed or find a mate. For them it is not “tomorrow morning I will check out the feeders at the Whites – if they are empty, I will go across the green space to the people on the other side.” They just go.
I do not know a great deal about bird physiology, but I do not imagine that they experience stress in the way that humans do.
What do I know about managing stress? I know that rest is essential. I know that being present in the moment is helpful. Any kind of creativity – drawing, painting, writing, playing the piano – all of these are calming. Meditating, quiet music, warm baths, cuddly blankets – all help. Anything that helps the body move out of fight or flight (the activation of the autonomic nervous system) and into calm (the activation of the para-sympathetic nervous system) helps the body calm down. An essential tool in this process is breathing. A breath in – a longer breath out – repeated at least three times – signals that vagal nerve system to move into PSN – and the body responds with letting go and calming down.
What I am recognizing about myself, however, is that I am not always aware of stress. I live my life, I think, in such a way as to be always ready for and thinking ahead into the next thing. For example, cleaning up the breakfast dishes – group tasks so that all is done most efficiently with least effort. Going to the bedroom? Find objects that are out of place and need to be picked up on that trip. Errands to run? List the stops and plan the most productive route. I accomplish a great deal by living this way. My question to myself, however, is whether leaning into the future is creating a problem with balance in my life.
I do not plan time to stop. I do not plan time to rest. I seem to be almost driven to do. And so, I ask myself, what am I driving toward or pushing away from? If I stop and rest, if I let myself meander a bit, if I take the longer way to go just because I want to see what is there – if I stay in the present moment and take those breaths – what could happen?
As I pause here to feel into those questions, the answer that surfaces is not a surprise. I will grieve. I will experience the losses of these past years yet again.
So, to find my balance I need to re-balance – a time of experiencing being in the moment that will include more tears, and more journaling, and more just being quiet with the memories. No “to-do” list on grief. It takes the time it takes and follows its own song.
If you find yourself caught in the cycle of never-ending doing, perhaps watching birds as they live in the moment could be a reminder of the power of now.
About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 35+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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