A recent article in The Guardian caught my eye, talking about the impact birds and birdsong have on a person’s mental health – a very interesting read.
One of my favourite things about our place in Athabasca (80 acres of Boreal forest in northern Alberta) is the number of birds that frequent our bird feeders there. I love listening to the chickadees, sparrows, waxwings, and finches singing away every morning. It lifts my spirits in a very simple and tangible way.
The piece talks about the effect listening to or watching birds has on depression – it can be difficult to motivate a person to exercise (the most common way to release endorphins), but much simpler to expose them to birds. Most people describe their feelings as “joy” after hearing birds singing. I would describe my feelings as “comfort, peace, serenity” as I sit in my armchair, strategically placed so I can see the bird feeder amidst the trees.
This life can be complex and finding simple pleasures can be challenging. Taking time to watch birds dance and flit about, singing their simple songs, can be a retreat from stress.
Serenity is not bestowed from outside; it can only be built from within. You can actually learn to be calm, by practicing “thought before action”.
What is “Calm”?
I am known for being calm. I can remember how many times I have lost my temper since I was in my mid-twenties, and count them on one hand. A passage comes to mind when I think about how I achieved that serenity.
“CALMNESS of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. It is the result of long and patient effort in self-control. Its presence is an indication of ripened experience, and of a more than ordinary knowledge of the laws and operations of thought.”
James Allen wrote this in 1903, in his short book “As a Man Thinketh”, a set of brief essays that outline how each person is the architect of their own life. It is one of the jewels of early western thought on the power of our minds to direct our lives.
“Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armoury of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself; he also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.”
As we engage in the world, it can become easy to get frustrated and angry at others. People do not behave as expected, much of the time. But you might as well get mad at the stone on which you just stubbed your toe! In the end, you can only govern your own thoughts and actions. Trying to force your mind on others is no way to grow inner serenity.
Seinfeld tried to address the pursuit of inner calm with Frank Costanza’s “serenity now!” yell. It made me laugh but pointed out that just yelling the word was the exact opposite response required to achieve it. You can’t force serenity on yourself; you have to build it from the inside.
Thought Before Action
Real peace and inner calmness can only come from looking within. You have no control over anything outside of your thoughts and actions. Once you come to grips with that, you can focus on examing the things that cause you distress and change the way you respond to them. Take time to think about your responses before you decide on action. Thoughts affect no one but yourself, actions affect the world. Approach action with calmness and serenity, and you will rarely regret your choices.