Everything applies to everything else. Birds are birds, but they are living beings as we are living beings. And so, feel free to substitute the word “people” for “birds” in the lessons learned in the experience I am about to tell you.
What we label “trauma” is everywhere. When it is seen as trauma, it is so big that it can be overwhelming; we are in a panic, we do not know what to do.
I have found that it is possible to approach trauma from a meditative place where we see it as a positive challenge–something to learn, to work with, to go through and come out stronger, wiser. Now with this perspective, we’ve taken the edge off trauma. We’ve drained off the panic, and we are left with pure in the moment feeling, which is a lot easier to deal with because feelings wave over us, and then they change. It is often our brains that keep the old labels active.
Today, in the mountains of Virginia where I am at my 20-acre retreat, we are having unseasonably mild weather. I did my Qi Gong practice with the sliding glass door open, listening to the wild birds as they had a party at my birdfeeder on the deck, which is only filled when I come to the retreat (otherwise bears and raccoons crash the party!).
I decided to wheel the cage of my hand-raised cockatiels, Tiki and Kipper, out on the deck so they could get some fresh air, vitamin D, and enjoy seeing the wild birds, something they do quite often in the warmer weather.
Lately they have been nervous when placed outside, and for good reason. They had had some recent trauma at my “regular” house in suburbs. Twice they had a hawk encounter; once on the deck, and once–amazingly enough–on the screened in porch that had open doorways (now being fitted for doors!). Fortunately the hawk had grabbed the bars of the cage, and within a few seconds, I was there to chase it away, screaming at the top of my lungs. It was scary for me as well, to see that huge hawk intending to have my pet birds for lunch!
My birds reacted in the same way as people do when they have experienced a traumatic event; the panic could rise up again when the birds were placed in the big world outside. Large birds circling high up in the sky could reawaken the memory of the hawk. And then, they would begin a repeated “alert” sound, a kind of a high-pitched screech.
It felt that today was a good day to begin retraining. Two factors were present: one–being out in the open could trigger the panic, two–we were in a different environment, one in which they had only had positive experiences when placed outside.
I placed their cage outside the sliding glass door, and continued my Qi Gong practice in the house, within a few feet of the door. Common sense and compassion were the name of the game:
- Compassion: recognizing and respecting that there was trauma, and coming from the heart in my response to them, giving them encouragement.
- Common sense: Using love and logic. Giving just enough challenge so it is doable, staying close by without hovering. As Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of my heroes, has said; “Common sense is genius dressed it its working clothes.”
After about twenty minutes, I joined them outside, sitting in a chair for my morning meditation. I chose a silent meditation for centering and grounding; mentally pulsing the Kundalini yoga mantra, Wah-Hay-Gu-Roo, at the brow point in an even cadence while breathing long and deep. I must have been very meditative because the wild birds didn’t mind coming to the feeder that was only five feet from where I was sitting.
My birds started relaxing. They still tipped an eye skyward now and then to check the heavens for any bigger birds circling. But their sounds were relaxed, and they felt comfortable enough to eat and drink. At the end of my meditation, one of them began whistling one of the four songs they know, and I was quick enough to capture it on video.