Encountering A Flight of Birds

by Scott Lennox

A flight of birds, egrets, whiter than ice,
crossing a line of dark clouds.
Nothing more, but certainly nothing less.
A single glance, and I am lifted up.
Another time, I would have looked for some grand meaning,
a hidden design.
Today, seeing them is enough.

Un vuelo de los aves, garzas, más blanco que el hielo,
cruze de una línea de nubes oscuras.
Nada más, pero sin duda, nada menos.
Una sola mirada, y sea elevado.
Otro tiempo, me abría buscando algún sentido grande,
un diseño escondido.
Hoy, verlos es suficiente.

Egrets, from Uncollected Poems by the Scott Lennox
(Translation into Spanish by the author)


It has long intrigued me how seemingly small things can cause life-altering shifts in us, encountering life in ways that help us to encounter ourselves. Sometimes, after the shift has taken place, there’s no going back.

When I think of seeing the egrets that day, I remember having the awareness that while I had been intently watching them, something in me changed. For that moment, I had been fully present.

Present with the clouds. Present with the birds. Present with myself.

I’d spent much of that day sitting at my usual table in the corner of a coffee shop, the noise and commotion and laughter swirling around me as I read a book and occasionally made notes in my journal.

Late in the afternoon, while looking through one of the shop’s west-facing windows, I noticed a long dark band of clouds brooding on the horizon. Just then, about a mile away, and directly between where I sat and the band of clouds, a drawn-out line of eight or nine snow-white egrets flew slowly past, heading south, in the direction of the river that flows through town.

The moment wasn’t what you’d describe as breath-taking. Rather, it was quietly engaging—a moment that was complete within itself. At the sight of those elegant birds, in what looked like effortless flight, each one trailing behind the other, I felt connected, and lifted, and inspired. And I felt still inside.

When the last of them was out of sight, I opened my journal and spontaneously began to write, first in English and then in Spanish, Egrets, the poem I’ve shared with you. As I reread it, I realized that I had become so caught up in watching the egrets that my conscious mind had stopped thinking altogether, something I would have sworn was impossible.

In place of thinking, a feeling of complete calm washed over me and through me. And though nothing had changed in the coffee shop, everything around me seemed somehow quieter and less chaotic. The difference was that my reactive mind was no longer resisting or pushing against the noise, or the movement, or the people. It all seemed to flow by without touching me.

That evening, and for several days afterward, I found myself wanting to return to that deep inner silence. It would be a while before I established the regular practice of it, but that one moment of stillness was enough to invite a lasting hunger for more.

In my recent newsletters and podcasts, I’ve written and spoken about stillness several times, and for a couple of reasons, I’ll continue to do so. One, because reaching stillness is easier to experience than most people think, even in our overly-busy, work-‘til-you-drop, productivity-based culture. And two, because the benefits of stillness are so profound and far-reaching, changing every part of us for the better, and allowing us to be with ourselves more openly.

It’s a medical fact that anxiety, worry, stress, and the pressures of our endless doing are known to cause the release of cortisol–the so-called stress hormone—into the body. And It’s also known that the overproduction of cortisol can lead to suppressed immunity, hypertension, high blood sugar, insulin resistance, and other health risks. The list is a long one.

On the other hand, lowering cortisol can help us regain balance and improve overall health. Each time we engage in stillness, we help to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. That’s the part of us that helps us “rest and digest,” and that helps us to heal physically, mentally, and emotionally.

In the moment that we are allowing true stillness, we open the door for clarity and for our innate wisdom, both of which naturally arise when take our stress-related obstacles out of the way.

And so, I offer one simple suggestion.

Several times during each day, it might be interesting to allow yourself to slow down, and to become still, long enough to be aware of some small detail in what’s happening around you, whether it’s close to you or at a distance. Simply allow yourself to “lean into” that detail. And then, as you continue being aware of it, with no force at all, and without really trying, notice any shift that takes place in you while you’re observing.

As your thoughts arise (and they probably will), allow them to go by, and quietly bring yourself back to witnessing the detail without narrating or editing. In time, the stillness you want will begin to deepen and lengthen, and even though you may not be aware of it in the moment, you’ll be helping to orchestrate your own wellness.

And so, two Beautiful Questions:

What are the reasons, either conscious or unconscious, that you aren’t allowing yourself the gift of stillness on a regular basis?

When and for how long are you willing to suspend your busyness so that you may give this gift to yourself?