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What a Murmuration of Starlings Taught Me

Thousands of birds become one great bird

Murmuration of starlings
Starlings teach us to pay attention.

Starlings and swallows are spiritual teachers. Their message is:

Pay Attention.

Swallows nest in our eaves every year. In the summer months we watch them swoop and glide between the back door and the willow trees, catching food on the wing. They move so fast and close to each other that we expect multiple collisions. But that never happens.

Their amazing ability to move with such speed and precision reminds me of the murmuration of starlings. The term murmuration refers to the incredibly intricate patterns they form as hundreds or thousands of them flock and fly in unison.

It’s a mesmerising sight, filmed many times and shared on social media.

Scientific investigation has revealed that the birds safely perform these seemingly miraculous patterns by paying attention to the actions of seven other birds nearest themselves. Thus, although the flock may number in the thousands, they’re all consciously connected to the whole by being consciously connected to those nearest them.

As Azriel ReShel wrote in the Uplift article The Emergence of Connected Consciousness:

They fly like one great bird.

Starlings, whether they know it or not, are showing us the power of attention.

They’re able to go with the flow of the flock by paying attention.

Mindfulness Tip for the Week

If you’re buying a house, the secret is Location, Location, Location.

If you want to be mindful, the secret is Attention, Attention, Attention.

But what should you pay attention to?

It’s easy to slip into the habit of paying attention to things you can probably do nothing about, like a revolution taking place on the other side of the globe. You hear about it on the morning news. You get upset, develop strong opinions about the causes and possible outcome, discuss it endlessly in the lunchroom, and can hardly wait for the evening news update.

But, ultimately, your attention to this matter is meaningless. The people experiencing the revolution need to pay attention to it. Not you.

You can’t effectively pay attention to the whole world. But, like a murmuration of starlings, you can effectively pay attention to those closest to you. The number seven isn’t magical, but it’s a manageable figure – not too few, not too many.

The famous American philosopher and psychologist William James said:

My experience is what I agree to attend to.

In other words, your experience is determined by what you pay attention to.

  • By paying attention to family members, your daily dealings can experience more flow.

  • By paying attention to the words and actions of your closest work colleagues, you are more likely to get positive outcomes.

  • By paying attention to those around you in public places, you can make decisions about what to do next that promotes the smooth-running of society.

Paying meaningful attention isn’t hard.

Starlings and swallows do it every day, and startle the world into wonder.

Be like them: Pay attention to what you are doing and what’s going on near you.

Then your life will also be a thing of beauty.

With love, Marlane

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