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  • michelle m. davis

A Lesson from the Birds

Whenever I visit my mom in Florida, one of my favorite things to do is run on the beach. After forty-three years of being a “runner,” though some days “jogger” is a more apt term, my body welcomes the soft surface of sand beneath my feet. This is most definitely a kinder experience than asphalt roads and paved paths.

But there are more benefits to running on the beach than merely less stress on my joints and muscles. While dodging the back-and-forth surf so my sneakers remain dry, I become immersed in the rhythmic flow of the waves, the sun’s reflection bouncing off of the water, and the sound of birds swirling above. In essence, I lose my monkey mind and sense a beautiful freedom, one which only comes in moments like this, granting the peace and serenity I crave.

For those of you who know me, you might be surprised with my passion for running on the beach. Growing up, I was not a big fan of “the shore.” As a little girl, I hated the sand because it felt hot on the soles of my feet and clung to my skin, making me itch. However, the older I’ve become, the more I’ve grown to love the beach. There’s something about hearing the crashing waves, inhaling the salt air, and feeling the warm breeze against my face. And not only are beach runs the ultimate for Zen time, but they’re also when those treasured “aha” moments seem to unveil themselves. And this is exactly what happened last month.

The weather was perfect—low seventies, abundant sunshine, and a light breeze. After arriving at the beach, I turned left and headed south. Lost in my thoughts, my feet moved rhythmically to the beat of the song streaming through my headphones. Then, when I came to my turn around point, I noticed a group of people with cameras staring at a flock of birds. I asked a woman what was going on, and she shared the local chapter of the Audubon Society was photographing the birds for an article.

I’ve been coming to this beach for over twenty-five years, so I’m aware of the plethora of birds often present. However, I never stopped to fully observe them and their interactions. Instead, I’ve walked or run by, appreciated their beauty, but nevertheless, continued on my path.

Yet today, something within told me to pause and allow myself time to look at these magnificent creatures. And when I did, I saw birds of all different sizes, shapes, and types, communing together by shore. There were no squabbles or lines of division. Regardless of gender, species, or appearance, they all got along.

The more time I spent watching them, it became abundantly clear that these birds weren’t just co-existing, there was an inner communication among them. Yes, similar groups “flocked together,” but there was an inner mixing occurring. When part of the group moved, the rest followed, even if the “leaders” were not one of their own. I sensed an innate trust as well as a level of concern for the whole. Maybe what I felt was their oneness.

After a bit, I began running again. But instead of allowing my mind to drift as is my pattern, I contemplated what I’d just observed. If these different types of birds could get along so gracefully, why do humans constantly struggle to do the same? Why do we so often ignore, judge, or criticize those who differ in appearance, beliefs, or cultures?

Thinking back, I hadn’t observed any birds on the outskirts, isolated from the group. Not only were all included, but they also seemed to be welcomed, even protected by the flock. But that’s not how we behave. We tend to keep to those like us. In fact, some people even lack tolerance for others with differing backgrounds, cultures, or opinions. And then it hit me …

What can’t we learn from the birds?

The entire way home, my mind dove into this question, dissecting the unparallel behavior between birds and humans. Then I thought about Canadian geese and how they take turns leading the group as they fly in V-formation. But it’s more than sharing the responsibility to steer the birds in the correct path. They switch positions to give the lead bird a rest from taking on the most air drag. By alternating which bird guides the geese, each receives a break, allowing time to recuperate at the back of the V.

Apparently, birds have an internal connection of sorts, allowing communication at a higher level, one we cannot measure or even comprehend. I assume they rely on this ability to survive.

If different types of ocean birds can get along, and if geese possess the ability to cooperate in leadership roles, we surely can learn from their behaviors. However, humanity continues to ignore the beauty of connectivity, and instead, we allow our egos to rule. Whether the cause is fear, greed, or power, somewhere along the line we’ve become isolated from the big picture—we forget that each of us is part of the human experience, here to learn, love, and care for one another.

That view on the beach remains imprinted in my mind. If only we could learn from the birds … what a wonderful world that would be.


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