I’ve been watching baby birds on my front porch. First I saw the parents building the nest, then three bright blue robin eggs appeared. My dog and I started using the back door to enter the house, I suddenly felt like a protector and a witness.
Two weeks later the eggs hatched while I was away, but soon after I began keeping daily vigil over these tiny growing things. As the birds grew, the parents worked hard to feed them more frequently, seemingly tireless in their long work days. Mom and dad carried away their little mucous-encased poop pouches (never knew how a nest stayed clean til now!), and would occasionally linger, looking curiously at their young.
Finally the babes started to flutter wings, stretch legs, chirp with more gusto, more life. I mistakenly thought they would fly the day I first saw wing action. But over the next few days, as I sunk into this new found form of mindful attention, I observed that after a visit from a parent, and what I imagined to be a good boundary-setting conversation where the parent would chirp loudly at the chick, the little ones would stand tall, stretch legs in an almost comical manner, puff chests, flap wings, and just when I thought they must be about to fly, they would settle back in, sometimes on top of each other, and take a 10 minute nap.
Growing is hard work!
We tell ourselves to jump, we judge ourselves when we don’t act, we talk ourselves up and do a little preparatory work in the effort of a larger goal, and then perhaps we think that because we have not taken flight we must have failed, we must be lazy, we must not have it together like everyone else does.
But each time we stand, each time we perch on the edge of the nest, wobbling in the breeze, throwing a wing out to balance ourselves and not topple over when our neighbor ruffles our feathers, we are growing stronger, we are building capacity for our lives to unfold just as they will, in the most natural way, into future flights that we can scarcely imagine.
And when the time comes to lift off, that too will seem less than extraordinary, it will just be the very next step, and we will once again need to rest after, pause on the porch railing and collect our awkward selves, flit up to the closest branch and gape in awe at the sensations of life: the way the sunlight breaks through the canopy, the sounds of birds and insects and cars depositing children at the elementary school down the street. Orienting to this vast new terrain, almost frozen as we take the time to regroup, recover, renew ourselves for the next launch, which will be only slightly less awkward and slightly longer than the last, we rest.
Activation and settling, expansion and contraction, small steps, patience, and trust in the process. I am grateful for this lesson from baby birds.
Sommerville Johnston, LPC, SEP, RYT® 200 Mental Health Therapist, owner of Aspen Roots Collective, and leader of Adventures.