If, like me, you’ve heard quite a lot about mindfulness but don’t really know what it is, and if, like me, you are interested in birds, then this might well be the book for you. I found it interesting and read it all the way through.
This book is a bit like most management courses I’ve attended – reassuringly sensible once you get through some of the jargon. I felt that I had been a fairly mindful birdwatcher for decades although there are areas for improvement and some areas where I’m never going to get any better after all this time.
So what is mindfulness? I’m still not completely sure but it’s certainly to do with being aware, being in the moment, experiencing life without judging and putting yourself in the place of others so that you empathise with them. Watching birds is a good route to mindfulness says the author, and I agree.
Some of the most mindful birders I know watch birds in their gardens – and they really know their birds, although they would be stumped if presented with a Curlew Sand in a flock of Dunlin in September. The most mindful birdwatcher I know is an FRS and a Professor of Zoology, and many other behavioural ecologists, ecologists and evolutionary biologists wouldn’t be far behind. They look at birds in detail, and think deeply about what’s going on in a bird’s world. And the least mindful birders are some twitchers – unmindful to the point of mindlessness, I’d say. But most of us are a mixture.
After about 25 pages I was thinking, ‘Yes, I get it. It makes quite a lot of sense. But what more is there to say?’ and then after 50 pages I was thinking ‘Hmmm, this is interesting, I wonder what comes next’ and that approach carried me through to the end of the book with quite a lot of enjoyment.
There were a couple of irritations for me though. First, I sometimes felt as though I was being told what to do and what to think, and that never works with me! I felt less encouraged and more instructed in places. Second, the author has a great love for adjectives; few nouns remain unaccompanied by adjectives (good adjectives, bad adjectives, appropriate adjectives and in a few places, slightly strange choices of adjectives) – these were a bit distracting.
But I enjoyed this book. I did get a better grip of what mindfulness is, and the author talks a lot of sense about birds and birding too. The case is made that mindful birding will be a much better route to happiness and contentment than mindless birding.
Claire is speaking at the Bird Fair on Sunday 20 August in the Authors’ Forum 09:30-10:00.
The Art of Mindful Birdwatching by Claire Thompson is published by Leaping Hare Press.