Mindfulness is a mental state of non-judgemental awareness of the moment and living in it. It opens the door to a new world. Usually thought of as meditation derived from Buddhist traditions but can be practised at any time by anybody. Bird watching predominantly, but not exclusively, focusses on vision… what you can see. But what you can see is not as straightforward as you would think.
Take this image of a pair of Rufous-backed Kingfishers taken in the Krau Valley, Malaysia for instance:-
- The eye takes in the light from the scene through the view finder.
- The eye sends signals to the brain which forms the image and decides it would make a nice photo.
- The photographer clicks the shutter release and the scene is recorded on the camera’s sensor, or film if you are ancient or been asleep for the last ten years.
- The sensor sends the digital information to it’s memory or it’s held in the silver nitrate of the photographic film.
- The photographer loads the digital information from the camera’s into the computer or if you are using film goes through the developing process in a dark room.
- The computer’s processors convert the digital information into light and displays an image of the scene on the computer’s monitor or the photo is printed on paper.
- The eye takes in the light from the computer screen (or photographic paper) of the scene.
- The eye sends the signal to the brain which forms the image that we “see”.
This fandango is all because the eye or the camera doesn’t “see”; they are both tools for capturing the array of light that is within the field of view of their lenses. It is the brain that forms the image in our consciousness using the signals it receives from the eyes be it directly or from a drawing or photograph. Bats (in the dark) and whales (over huge distances through murky water) do the same thing but use sound instead of light to form images and their sound images are as clear as our visual images. Not only that but the brain can take multiple sets of data an combine them into a single image. Take the eyes on either side of the head of a bird such as a blackbird which needs to see a panoramic all round view of where its predators are coming from.
It is of course the same for touch and smell (and sound in visual dominated brains although neuroplasticity can change that somewhat). However, the image in the brain is not totally WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get). Other senses influence how the image “looks” to us which is good because otherwise we would not be able to stand up and we can be fooled.
Art is a image, 2D lines and flat hue's that we think is 3D. - Waratah Flower NSW.
So why does certain visual scenes, musical sounds, aromas or touches get our attention and make us feel better than others. Would you rather see an image of a tropical sunset or a industrial street. Do you prefer the smell of roses to the local sewage processing plant. How about a spider crawling up your arm or a Thai massage. Well what about a massage, listening to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and overlooking the Matterhorn from a rose garden in the alpine village of Zermatt all at the same time? Well because we can’t concentrate fully on all of them at once we diminish the effect of the individual parts and that is why multi-tasking is a con if you have to think about more than one thing at a time. I have to close my eyes when I hear Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto… which is not too good if I’m doing 100 kilometres an hour down the freeway. What is the genius that allowed Mozart to compose music that elevates our emotions so profoundly and others haven't and how could he do it so prolifically?
Obviously it’s all to do with the brain and our brains are working overtime taking in a multitude of different data from a range of special sensors. Fortunately we dump most of the data just as soon as we have gathered it, used some of it, maybe… and then moved on otherwise we would've a mental overload within seconds. In fact our brain doesn’t even need to receive all the data to form an image. As soon as it recognises a pattern it fills it in the rest for us, like a JPEG. That is why we can learn stuff by practising and when we are required to repeat it we can do it almost instantly and without thinking about it… like driving a car at 100 kph down the highway and talking on the phone at the same time and why we crash when we get into an unplanned skid except if we are on Top Gear.
The brain has a series of "harmonics" built into it that are almost universal, so when we see a scene (sound, touch, smell) that resonates with those harmonics we stop, absorb and hold. We also attenuate the other sensors. Yoga, mindfulness, meditation are methods of controlling the brain to a single awareness that focusses on the breath or some such thing… or a sunset or a Splendid Fairy-wren. How soon does the brain starts crowding in distractions into our single thought process and we loose track. This is something we do have a choice in. Yoga is about by concentrating on a single thing and getting it back when we get distracted so the mind can eliminate all the interruptions and the brain gets a rest, bodies can heal and inner peace can come. Ww know that when we see, hear or feel something really nice we concentrate our mental activity on that to the detriment of everything else… sex is a great example.
The New Zealand Silver-eye - bird watching is an awareness of the moment, the environment, and the beauty and fascination of nature. It's good to keep a bird list but bird watching for the sake of "tick's" on a list is meaningless and like worrying, is a waste of energy.
Respect your brain, do mindfulness, clear your thoughts and you will get the full awareness of the many and varied senses that the God has put before us. Our brains are the most complex structures in the universe and are the centre of all pleasure and pain. They can be used wisely or lazily allowed to run amok through a chaotic world of ever increasing and conflicting data… and that’s called unhappiness! Your choice… over and out!