birdwatching as a way of practicing process theology
It takes you outside, even if outside is your backyard or a local park. Science shows that being outside has numerous mental health benefits.
It reminds you of worlds other than your own, helping you understand that you are not the center of the universe.
It widens your idea of intelligence, since birds obviously have forms of intelligence and embodied wisdom that we humans lack. For one thing, they can fly.
It enriches your spiritual life, eliciting many qualities of heart and mind that are part of the spiritual alphabet: attention, wonder, connection, and a sense of beauty.
It can provide guidance for life, if you believe that birds can be spirit guides and ambassadors from other worlds.
It can bring you closer to God, if you believe that birds are part of the very body of God and that God lures you to be richly connected with the more than human world.
It has a social side, helping you enjoy friendships when you’re doing it others.
It activates metaphysical intuitions, helping you remember the ultimacy of process and inter-becoming, since birds are always in process and part of a larger ecology of life.
It widens your capacity for listening, when attentive to bird's songs, reminding you that music and communication do not begin with human beings.
It introduces you to people who know a lot more than you do, from whom you can learn.
It slows you down, which can help you become less frenetic and hurried.
It enhances you observational skills, which can help you be more focused.
It activates an ethical side of your life, inspiring you to help make your home, neighborhood, and locale more bird-friendly which is part of what an ecological civilization looks like.
It can be part of helping to create a more just world, if birdwatching leads you create green (bird-friendly) spaces in urban neighborhoods. See the work of Lot to Spot described below.
It's fun, which is good in its own right.
Note: All of these reasons make sense from a process perspective and any of them are sufficient reason to take up the practice of birdwatching. Process theologians believe that all living beings on our planet are subjects of their own life, with agency and feeling, and that they have worlds of their own. They believes that other living beings, birds for example, are inwardly drawn not only to survive with satisfaction but to enjoy beauty, as in birdsong. They believe that one of the deepest needs of our time, socially and spiritually, is to find our connections with the more than human world. They believe that human beings have a spiritual side, consisting of forms of emotional intelligence and embodied wisdom that include attention, wonder, connection, a sense of beauty and zest for life (fun). They believe that the metaphysical fact of our world is process and inter-becoming, such that the universe is itself a web of inter-becoming. They believe that education occurs not only in the classroom but in family life, in community, and "outside" in the larger web of life. They believe that the universe itself has a mind our soul, often named God, whose very life is enriched by the many forms of life and our appreciation of them, which means that birds and our appreciation of them are part of the very body of God. They believe that the great work of our time, to which each of us is called, is to help build compassionate communities that are creative, diverse, harmonious, good for animals, and good for the earth, with no one left behind. These communities are the building blocks of what they call ecological civilizations. Thus, from a process perspective, birdwatching can be understood as a practice conducive to ecological civilization, which is, among other things, a bird-friendly civilization.
Mounting Scientific Evidence Anyone who birds a favorite park over and over knows intuitively why they keep going back: It just feels good. Being in nature—pausing in it, sitting with it, discovering its wonders—brings a sense of calm and renewal. Now science is backing up our intuition with data and revealing the benefits run much, much deeper. Of hundreds of published studies, none alone is definitive, but together they offer a growing sense of what’s lost as people spend more time than ever indoors....“The field is starting to build momentum right now,” says University of Washington environmental psychologist Gregory Bratman, who led a recent review of findings across social and health sciences. “Evidence is there to support the conclusion that contact with nature benefits our mood, our psychological well-being, our mental health, and our cognitive functioning,” he says.
Community-Designed Green Spaces Viviana Franco is the founder and executive director of From Lot to Spot, a Los Angeles nonprofit.
"I grew up in a low-income neighborhood decimated by the creation of Los Angeles’s last freeway. It cut off access to a park and left us with cul-de-sacs and vacant lots. When I went to high school, I witnessed for the first time a different built environment. There were trees on the street, gardens, and parks. I didn't know that was an option. That’s where From Lot to Spot was born. Why don’t we take blighted lots that demoralize communities and create community-designed green spaces? We’ve built 14 in L.A. County and have about eight in development. We also partnered with the county's Department of Mental Health. In California, local and state governments are starting to get the equity conversation. But they can’t rely on nonprofits. They need to step it up.
—As told to Jessica Leber of the Audobon Society
The Doctor Prescribes It No one needs an excuse to go birding, but in Shetland, Scotland, some residents have a good one anyway: a doctor’s advice. Since the fall of 2018, the U.K.’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has teamed with the islands’ 10 health centers to steer patients outdoors, especially as they see more people arriving with issues like diabetes, anxiety, and depression. “This is a new health challenge,” says National Health Service Shetland communications officer Carol Campbell. “Until just a generation ago, Shetland’s population lived a very active life as fishermen and crofters eating a simple diet based on potatoes, kale, and oily fish.”
—As told to Jessica Leber of the Audobon Society
Park Visits for Low Income Parents and Children
Doctors will be key partners in this effort. Nooshin Razani, director of the Center for Nature and Health at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, works with low-income patients to “prescribe” regular park visits. In two small early trials, she’s found that these excursions increased children’s resilience and also reduced parental stress and loneliness. Whether the adults visited a park independently or in a group didn’t affect the results—a finding that could help inform other programs. “I really felt like we needed experimental data,” she says.
But Razani also believes in simply talking with patients and listening to their experiences. “I think we really need to take a moment to understand why depression and anxiety are increasing,” she says. With that knowledge will come more tools for addressing the public-health challenge. “I absolutely think being outside is part of the solution to that.”
Dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and I tried pretty much every type of medication there is. I’ve done various therapies. None of it helped me. The medications just made me feel numb to the world, and I isolated myself. Then I started getting outdoors and hiking. Being out in nature made me be present, more in the moment. Back home, I had panic attacks in pretty much every social situation. But on the trail, I was socializing with other hikers. I was opening up and actually talking to people. I was able to scale back on my medication. More and more of myself started just coming back in the picture.
—As told to Jill U. Adams of the Audoban Society
The Centering Power of Hiking
When I came to Seattle from Kenya, I knew there were mountains but I didn't know that people can go hike and even camp. I discovered the benefits of hiking and started reaching out to my community through my work. Hiking centers me spiritually, and centeredness is an aspect of our traditions. It’s only a bus fare to get to a hiking trail outside the city with Trailhead Direct, a pilot public transport service that ferries people to wild areas that aren’t easy to access. There's an East African community in the city of Tukwila that has a station. I led a group to go experience this wonderful nature on the Sky Country trail at Cougar Mountain. And I could see in their eyes, they were just taken aback. The kids were like: ‘What? In America, you can walk around in nature?’
Lot to Spot is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving blighted, urban neighborhoods in the greater Los Angeles area one vacant space at a time. It was founded in 2007 as a direct result of the relationship between lack of accessible green space and the quality of life in low-income neighborhoods.
FLTS’s unique approach involves grassroot, community engagement to ensure disadvantaged communities contribute their voice in developing healthy spaces in their neighborhoods. It supports policy that promotes equitable standards of living for all people, recognizing that no matter your socio-economic background, all people deserve access to healthy food, health & wellness opportunities, and sustainable conditions that empower them to live vibrant lives.
Birdwatching as a Form of Yoga
Audubon: John James Audubon and the Birds of America
A beautiful documentary on the life of the ornithologist and naturalist and his artistic masterpiece The Birds of America.
Reviewed by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat reposted from Spirituality and Practice
A portrait of John James Audubon hangs in the White House. His statue greets visitors to New York's American Museum of Natural History, and his name was adopted by the nation's first conservation organization. He was one of the most remarkable early Americans and his legacy extends to this day.
A self-taught painter and ornithologist, he is best known for his astonishing collection of life-size bird portraits called Birds of America. Today original copies are the most expensive books in the world. His life and prodigious work combine in an account of diligence, creativity, and accomplishment.
Born in 1785 in Haiti, Audubon's family fled the revolution there and settled down in Nantes, France, where he spent his childhood and youth until the age of 18. He married Lucy Bakewell, the daughter of a well-to-do English merchant family, and they moved to the frontier town of Henderson, Kentucky. They opened a group of general stores and became very wealthy but went bankrupt in the Panic of 1819.
An avid lover of birds, which he called the "feathered tribes," Audubon came up with an ambitious plan to paint all 435 of the bird species of America in life size. He plunged into the wilderness to find his subjects' feeding preferences, calls and songs, courtship rituals, and other traits. His paintings showed the birds' typical behavior in their natural habitats. Traveling mostly on foot, he eventually painted all the then-known birds from the Florida Keys to the straits of Newfoundland to the swamps of Louisiana and Texas to the mountains of Montana and the Dakotas. His project involved long separations from his wife, including trips to England to work with an engraver for the book.
Writer and director Al Reinert has fashioned a lovely and spiritually uplifting documentary about the genius who has been called "the godfather of the conservation movement." The narration of the film is taken from Audubon's writings in his journals, letters, and notebooks, along with the five volumes of ornithological biographies. Additional commentaries are added by his biographers and his wife's biographer. A curator of an exhibition of his paintings points out interesting details about the birds, and live footage of the same species today further illustrate Audubon's genius. During Audubon's lifetime, America was a paradise of birds. Several of the species that he painted reverently are now extinct -- the passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet, and the ivory-billed woodpecker. They live on in Audubon's art and we are grateful!