How to Boost Your Mindfulness and Empathy While Birding

Turning your focus to nature and wildlife can help allay stress and anxiety. But always make others feel at ease, too.

Editor's note: These tips are part of  "The Nature Antidote," a package appearing in the Winter 2019 issue of Audubon Magazine. Read more of the story here

Tune Into Birds—And Tune Out All Else

Mindfulness—the practice of being in the moment—can enhance our connection to nature and sense of wellbeing. Try it in a group, whether at popular Japanese-style “forest bathing” sessions or a guided meditation at a nature preserve, or on your own. These tips from Mass Audubon’s Becky Cushing, who leads birding and mindfulness workshops at a popular New England wellness retreat and at local wildlife sanctuaries, can get you started.

Center yourself. Go without binoculars or a checklist. Find a place to stand or sit with your eyes closed. Give yourself five minutes to experience the place through your non-sight senses.

Use your “beginner’s mind.” When you head out on a walk, set aside any expectations of what you might see and approach the experience as if it’s your first time.

Try a walking meditation. Move stealthily, and get out of your own head by thinking about the ways you might be detected by native fauna. Connect your awareness of wildlife to their awareness of you.

Adjust your hearing. Cup your ears, and try to identify the location, direction, and distance of the sounds. Or let the dawn chorus wash over you: Listen to it like a symphony rather than keying in on individual instruments.

Walk In Your Trail Mates' Shoes—and They'll Walk Easier

Not everyone feels safe and comfortable in nature. People who didn’t grow up camping or who might not recognize themselves in a hiking-gear catalogue may experience stress or anxiety instead. To make green spaces more inviting to everyone, start by evaluating your own actions and following this advice from Latino Outdoors founder José G. González.

Do your homework. Take the way you approach the outdoors with interest and curios- ity and apply that to understanding the barriers people from traditionally underrepresented or marginalized groups face.

Consider unintended impacts of your words. If you ask where someone is from, for instance, you might mean, “Do you live around here?” They may hear, “Are you American?”

Beware the arrogance of expertise. Aim to be helpful, but don’t lecture or simply impart your wisdom upon people who may seem to be newbies. They may not, for example, have the “right” gear, but do not assume they come as empty slates.

Respect groups you encounter. Joining with others can help people form a nature habit, while also smoothing the way for those who may feel anxious or unsafe on their own. Recognize and welcome the community building that’s going on.