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“I don’t know anything about consciousness. I just try to teach my students how to hear the birds sing.” Shunryu Suzuki Roshi.

I sit in my garden and listen to the singing of the birds. On this evening in mid-April, there is the busyness of the chirp of the brown sparrows, a tree full of sound. Occasional trills, a quick beat as fast as their wings as they dart to and fro. A rival bush sparks up. A change in sound signals tumult and squabble in the tree.

The wood pigeons coo. That is what they do. Soothing, repetitive. The sound comes and goes. Cooo-cooo-coo, cooo-cooo-coo, cooo-cooo-coo. Three repetitions, five repetitions. All the way up to nine. A pigeon further away throws their voice into the ring. A low, reassuring note, a warm grey, at home in a dappling of light and shade. A vibration for trees to grow to, slow and steady. For children to grow to. There is no hurry here.

The seagulls send their ocean waves into the air, telling stories of the sea, seven miles from here on seagull’s wing, wing now illuminated by the setting sun. I wonder, if I didn’t know, would I know they belonged to the sea. I listen to their voice and hear how it is pitched to surf and rise above the roar of the ocean waves, high enough to carry, but not so high that it is lost. Another, and then another, criss-cross the air space, formation flying, seeking to establish their dominance.

The evening song of the blackbird, sweet and high and clear. The Druid bird, singing at the threshold between day and night.

Ten minutes later, and there’s just an occasional rattling chirp from the sparrows - trrrrtrrrrtrrrrip trrrrtrrip trrrrip trrrrip. Who will get the last word?

Back to the residual hum. Quietening. Quietening. The energy going down as the sun goes down.

And then the insistence of the sparrows returns. Louder than ever. They’re not ready for bed yet. Chi-che. Chi-che. Chi-che. Chi.

Sometimes people need to lie to themselves most of all. Sometimes it’s time to listen to the truth of the singing of the birds.

If you would like to try deepening your listening to the birds I recommend David Haskell's practice . This piece was and written for my weekly writing group.

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Olivia Sprinkel
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