There are endless ways to invite stillness, reflection, integration, and presence into our everyday lives. And from these quiet spaces, clarity for some of our most important life decisions, ideas and feelings can surface. But the question is, what is the easiest way to habitually add this state of mind to our busy lives? For me, the answer lies in simple routines that I call rituals.
Small rituals invite me to pause, question the rat race I may be running in, ask what it is all for, and consider as the late poet Mary Oliver might, how will I curate the remainder of my “one wild and precious life.” My rituals invite me to frequently turn my thinking brain off for a few spacious minutes and invite my other senses out to play.
I find that without anchoring rituals, it’s far too easy to default into a state of existence that feels hurried, distracted, reactive and drained. Or put simply, to sink into living a life that feels unfulfilled.
And while it may seem easy to add beautiful practices when life feels perfect, these rituals actually become most essential in times when my life is not going smoothly; when my worries are high and my confidence is low. As life starts handing out the proverbial lemons, my rituals, rather than fading to the background as silly or indulgent, become a lifeline to all that feels good and safe. They lead me back toward a place of peace.
One of my favorite little rituals for anchoring and grounding into a place of stillness, or what Nancy Levin calls “the space between no longer and not yet”, is to have a relationship with the birds in my yard. Which basically means that I feed them. It’s short, simple and, for me, it works.
Do you have a bird feeder in your yard? Or a place for birds to get water? If not, I humbly suggest you consider getting or making one this winter. Create a sanctuary for winter birds to come and fill their tummies, and claim it as a visual reminder to clear space in your mind, and free yourself from a few moments of worry or thought-clutter.
Does the word sanctuary sound intimidating? Because it doesn’t have to. My bird sanctuary is a single bird feeder and a bird bath.
When you consider location, don’t forget to put it within view of the windows you frequent most often in your home or office. That’s the idea. I want passing by the bird feeder to invite me to look up, to interrupt my multitasking and the busy parts of my life. It’s the whole point.
Winter is the perfect time to start this ritual, because birds are hungry, and bugs and other parts of their diet are not always readily available. They are so grateful and happy to congregate around a feeder, and my noticing each day, which ones visit regularly and which ones are new to town, adds a pause that my life almost always needs, especially when times are dark. And that moment is sometimes all it takes to anchor into all that is right with the world.
My great grandmother had a ritual of walking to the front of her house each afternoon around 4pm to sit in an arm chair and watch birds peck seed she dumped in her driveway directly outside her sliding glass door. I remember one period of time there was a little parakeet who must have escaped someone’s cage to join her little party.
In terms of feeding the birds in my yard, I follow my great grandmother’s rule of only putting just enough birdseed out for one day. That way I don’t have squirrels and other rodents (who do not invoke stillness inside of me) invading.
In the springtime after the last pecans have disappeared, squirrels inevitably climb my feeder to eat all the seed at once. When that happens, I put cayenne in the bird seed (which doesn’t hurt the birds but effectively deters the squirrels), and one time I even oiled the pole and had a great time watching the squirrel leap only to slide down like an adorable little fluffy firefighter.
The habit of walking outside, filling my bird bath as needed, and dumping a cup full of seed became a micro-meditation at some point over the past few years. And as I’ve gotten to know the birds who frequent my yard, I think of them as friends, with each season bringing different visitors.
At my house we have mourning doves, cardinals, sparrows, warblers, titmouse, and bluejays. We even have green heron visit the yard each summer. We also have red shouldered hawks nesting high in our grandaddy pecan tree. Without creating my little bird sanctuary, I would never have noticed any of them.
I invite you to host your own bird party. It might surprise you how much your feathered visitors add to your life, the ideas you come up with, or the clarity that starts surfacing for important decisions you must make, just by taking 2 minutes a day to feed them. And please don’t be discouraged if they don’t immediately come. It may take a couple of weeks for them to discover the space you’ve created.
While most of us can only think about adding short rituals to our lives with ease, if you are someone who is wanting to dive deeper and create a lengthier meditative practice with nature, here are a few idea you can build on:
1) Try sitting outside within sight of your feeder for 10-20 minutes a day. You’ll get to recognize the different species of birds and their calls on a completely different level when a window pane of glass isn’t dividing you. And, just as you become used to them, they too will become used to your presence the more consistently you go.
2) Another option is to get a field guide and start identifying the birds who show up.
3) Sketching or journaling about the creatures I come across is a great way to quiet my thinking mind and pay closer attention to the natural word and its many beautiful details. And paying attention is how we get more of those sacred pauses of stillness.
4) A final way to expand on this: consider planting pollinator seeds and plants in the area surrounding your feeder this spring. It will promote the entire ecosystem around your bird community.
Whatever you choose to do in the way of ritual, I encourage you to keep it simple, as that is often all it takes to reap the benefits of pausing, engaging with the natural world, and mindfully moving through your day.
I hope it adds some grounding joy to your life.
I am convinced that ritual is one of the key ingredients to a life well-lived, or at the very least, a great way for a busy person to pause and actually notice when he or she is in the midst of a life well-lived.
And I am even more convinced that ritual is most likely to happen consistently when it is simple, easy, imperfect, and quick.
I’ll be sharing several little rituals I rely on this January and February. I encourage you to try one, and see if it’s something that adds meaning or space for reflection and integration of all the seemingly ordinary yet rich facets of your own every day life!