Bird watching for enlightenment

There’s an issue I’ve been wrestling with for a while, and reading Mark Townsend’s work has really brought it into focus for me. There’s an aspect to following a spiritual path that says ‘you are not good enough right now, but if you do all the things you will get a better outcome’. Whether that’s enlightenment, heaven, or some other notion varies, but the idea of improving yourself is part (surely?) of what religion is for.

The idea of improvement creates problems though. I strive, and study and try and do all the right things. (Thank you Mark, for letting me know it isn’t just me, or I would not have been able to admit this). Sometimes, I start to feel like I’m getting somewhere. External achievements help with this. Ooh look, X has occurred and therefore I’m a better sort of Druid! Which on its own would be fine, but it raises the temptation to look around and see who isn’t this far down the path, isn’t this clever, or this good. It may be one of Druidry’s saving graces that we don’t have an agreed model for what the perfect Druid looks like, whereas Christianity suffers a good deal more from the effects of this because there are clearer patterns to follow.

I catch myself doing it sometimes, and it leaves me uncomfortable. In the recognition of this as ‘failure’ is also the sense that there should be some other, better way of doing this that doesn’t risk replacing wisdom with smugness or experience with superiority. It also makes me anxious because I worry about being judged by others, not being a good enough Druid myself, not keeping up, not knowing enough or being clever enough and all the rest of it.

I may have come up with something.

When you take up bird watching, there’s a sudden learning curve as all the anonymous and familiar birds around you become individuals you can name. It’s exciting. You move on to less common birds over time, you get more confident about telling one from another from a burst of song or a flash of tail. Then, quite possibly, a thing happens. It stops being the birds that are exciting, and starts to be about the bragging. It’s not the seeing the crane, it’s the knowing how jealous other people will be when you tweet about it (sorry, couldn’t resist). You travel hundreds of miles to see a bird that isn’t rare where it lives, but is blown off course. You dash in, get a picture, dash out – you’re a hardcore birdwatcher now, and you don’t bother yourself with boring, everyday birds.

I think this is how it can go with religion, all too often. The practice, the trappings, the process start to take over from the thing that is the core of what you are doing. In the case of bird watching, what’s called for is just being able to enjoy what is there, still being excited about the everyday birds. What is the equivalent for Druidry? As Druidry is harder to define in the first place, I think the short answer is ‘showing up’. Be present, do the things (whatever they are for you) show up and experience, and don’t let the idea of big shiny things take you away from the little everyday things. Get excited about seeing something rare and precious – that’s a blessing – but maybe it doesn’t mean much. Maybe it doesn’t mean we’re getting somewhere, maybe it’s just luck, or grace and we do not need to feel important.

I’m a cheerful, naive bird watcher who still gets excited about robins and blackbirds. I’m going to try and take more of that mindset into the Druidry, and see if I can fret less about being a good Druid.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Bird watching for enlightenment

  • thalassa

    Reblogged this on Pagan Devotionals and commented:
    “The practice, the trappings, the process start to take over from the thing that is the core of what you are doing.”

    Yes! What a wonderful allegory!!

  • Sheila North

    Loved this. From another naive, enthusiastic bird watcher, to another. Mr Blackbird’s regular, morning visits still thrill me.

    Particularly loved this: “…there should be some other, better way of doing this that doesn’t risk replacing wisdom with smugness or experience with superiority.” So agree with this…speaking as a non-specific Pagan, and not a Druid.

  • curlydogs11

    Nimue, I don’t feel that there is such a thing as a “good” Druid. Putting a label on a philosophy or a spirituality is defeating the purpose. I try, at all times, to follow a Druid path. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose…but that doesn’t make me “bad” or “good”, it just makes me human. Every time I begin to think that this path is easy, something comes up to make me take back my words – I think it’s why I never call myself a Druid…I’m only trying to walk the way. We are our harshest judges, aren’t we?

    • Nimue Brown

      If I’m taking a step back to think about this, I don’t think think in the way I’ve described either, but it is part of what happens when things go wrong, its the kind of thinking that shows up when balance is lost one way or another, which is why i wanted to explore it.

  • Léithin Cluan

    This is wonderful – thank you 🙂

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