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Lessons from Birds

art by Stephanie Law

Dear ones,

I have a natural inclination towards hermitage. I have all my life.

There's something in this kind of quiet that tugs deeply at the core of who I am. Living in Montana has gifted us the opportunity to be intimate with the land in a way I haven't been all my adult life. I've had moments, yes. But not with this consistency.

I've been a regular hiker, on the trails multiple days per week. And I've planted things, and experienced the wonder of watching something bloom and then die, and then bloom again.

But living here is different. I'm not up here "working the land." I'm just reveling in it in a way I haven't before, completely swallowed by the mass of it. I feel so small within it.

I notice the land to be shifting the very core of who I am, as our environments do, whether we know it or not.

Cities bring with them a vibrant energy. There are so many people buzzing with life -- sharing spaces, ideas, apartment buildings, neighborhoods, transportation and more. Even if unspoken, there is an energetic exchange and a beneath-the-surface hum we carry with us when we live in bustling cities.

Here, we're experiencing the opposite. Barren, sparse, still, harsh, and open. My exchanges with people beyond my family are intentionally few, and I find myself watching animals and weather patterns with regularity between pushes of productivity.

One of my noticings right now is about the messages from birds.

We see all kinds perched up here on the ridge where we live. Before the snow came, it was cranes that shocked me quiet. They're huge, taller than as my 8 year old, and prehistoric sounding. Their screeches pull me right out of my head. Cranes symbolize so many things, good fortune among them. I felt lucky just watching from the window, as if I was seeing something rare, at a wildlife refuge.

But since the snow has come, it's the hawks that catch my attention between thoughts. The way they hang on the air and ride the wind, not headed anywhere in particular. Likely, they're scouting for food underneath the crunchy, wind-whipped snow. But I see them floating in the air there, both doing something and not, and it reflects my own liminal state back to me.

It is so interesting to be a newcomer again. Though my kids would say otherwise, starting over here has not been difficult for my husband or me. We were hungry for this. And we've had practice being in entirely new situations. My kids have not. Sure - new camps, classes, teams and things. But not starting over to this degree. They're experiencing both the good and the hard learnings that happen when you have to rebuild yourself.

For me, the shifts have been internal. I felt so certain in who I thought I was in Boulder, my hometown. I felt assured in my opinions and thoughts, my systems and beliefs. When I'm feeling low here, there's an almost urgency to forcefully recreate that same sense of certainty.

But then I remember the hawks....

The way they hang in the in-between. It lightens my spirit and reminds me of what I am here to learn.

I am a flexible person. But I have always struggled with being "in-between." In between projects, books, relationships, houses, even identities or roles. I've never allowed the The Pauses of life to be pleasant. I am much more comfortable "working towards something," creating something concrete; knowing where I am going, and living by what I think is *right* or *wrong.*

But the danger of living only in the familiar and concrete is that very quickly, our thoughts become facts. Thoughts we don't circle back to reevaluate, just take as truth. And these thoughts are ego sustained ones that close our hearts and minds.

Despite how *positive* we are, our ideas are never facts. They are opinions we've made into fact to serve us in our given set and setting.

Zen Buddhists talk about the dangers of what's called "I Know Mind." The second we say we already know, we disengage from that part of our life, dropping away from moment-to-moment presence. We label something, for instance "flower" and instead of being moved by its present color and scent, we walk right by it. Yes, yes, we tell ourselves, I know all about the flowers; I've seen a million before.

We lose our sense of wonder, awe, and enchantment when we live with I Know Mind.

So my facts are becoming jumbled and my inner brain bits feel gushy. I find myself questioning previously strong-held opinions I had about education, nutrition, sustainable eating, politics, religion, community and more.

But instead of rushing to make meaning and close in on what's "right," in honor of the hawks, I am riding the air of not entirely knowing right now. And somehow, it feels important for my growth.

Ironically, hawks symbolize clear thinking and clairvoyance, among other things. And I'm beginning to think letting go of knowing is a clairvoyance I haven't experienced in a while, but could surely use now. It feels like fertile ground for growth and creation.

So today, I leave you not with convictions or opinions, but with questions for reflection.

May you welcome The Pauses, the liminal moments in your life, however they come. And may you receive the beauty and wisdom of messages coming to you through your environment.



  • How does your environment influence who you are right now?

  • Is there any thought, idea, relationship or element in your life that you could loosen your mental grip on right now?

  • Describe your natural surroundings. If you are far from nature, what natural elements speak to you? What rocks, plants, etc do you keep in your house?

  • Reflect on a time when something in nature reflected something important back to you? What lesson did you learn?

  • What lesson might nature want to teach you now? If you feel an answer bubble forth, write about it. If you are not sure, next time you are out connecting with it, ask yourself this question in your head as you walk/run/swim: "what lesson do you have for me today, natural world?"

  • Say thank you to whatever it is that brought that lesson forth for you - the bird, the tree, the wind, the rock


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