What the Robin Knows

Brought Me to the Present Moment

We slide to the equinox, the shortest (or longest) day. Does it feel like that to you? Sliding? Running? Roaring? Last week we had a full moon day, with Venus passing in front of the Sun, did you see that? It rained here most of the day, but I stood with my face to 10 minutes of afternoon winter sun and let the feeling of that moment into my body. These are special times, I feel. Special, because they slip by if we forget to see, and when we do see, we feel grateful.

Our contributor this week is a world leader in the movement for 'new nature connection.' I am honoured to introduce Nicole Young to you. To me, she is the essence of that magic combination of wild heart and gentle heart. I know you will hear the truth of her message conveyed in the simplicity and wisdom of birdsong.

Kiwis have a natural affinity for birds, especially the native ones. It is quite normal for an entire group of trampers to stop dead on a walking track, long minutes, hardly breathing so as to listen better, and possibly spot the maker of the song.

Happy Equinox, beloved friends, Becky

Survival and Thrival: Great Lessons from Small Neighbours

by Nicole Young

South Island Robin

The best teachers are all around us and don't cost anything. Sure, we have to pay with our time and presence, but if it brings us freedom, wouldn't it be free?

Who are these teachers? They are small creatures with beaks, feathers, wings, and many different voices. They are everywhere, at parks, the ocean, neighborhoods, and even in the city. Even when you are inside, if you listen carefully, you can still hear them all day long, and some even through the night.

What could these little creatures with their varied voices, colors, and postures, have to teach us? I first learned about the phenomenon of bird language from my husband, Jon Young, who just published a book on this subject called What the Robin Knows. When I think about it now, it's obvious why listening to the birds brings great gifts, but at first, I was skeptical.

At the time I was involved in a nine-month nature immersion program that required us to listen closely to the birds for 30 minutes, map what we heard and where, and then debrief with others in the group about what we noticed. Half the time or more, I would fall asleep during these sits, and then the other half I would mostly be wondering, Why am I sitting here listening to birds, and who really cares?

It wasn't until I practiced more that I realized, not only could I truly discover hidden animals, or even find them in a relaxed state because of bird language, but I also realized why I kept falling asleep. Through the listening, I was going into a state of deep relaxation, and actually giving my being an opportunity to rest from the constant chatter of my mind.

For millions of years, our ancestors relied on paying rapt attention to the subtle, and not so subtle clues of nature in order to survive. It is not until very recently that we are able to spend so much time disconnected from the world, and mostly on autopilot, while our minds think and worry away about everything under the sun, except the present moment.

So, why should we pay attention if our survival does not require it anymore? Well, there is survival, and then what I call thrival. Since our ancestors all paid rapt attention to the natural world for millions of years, and in only the last few hundred or so we have become progressively less aware, our beings are longing for certain nutrients that we aren't allowing them to access. Things like awe and beauty, connection to our food through plants and animals, presence with our loved ones, fresh air and sunshine, and most importantly, our intuition.

So many current negative human conditions are the cause of us becoming disconnected from ourselves, the earth, and each other. There's anxiety, depression, stress, violence, a myriad of physical illnesses, lack of meaning and purpose, and the list goes on and on. But there is hope, and thankfully, it is simple and accessible to all.

Learning the language of the birds through deep listening truly has brought me to the present moment, and literally saved my life in more ways than one. The first way is that before my practice and deeper understanding of what the birds were saying, I was so busy in my mind, I wasn't really experiencing my life at all. The second way bird language saved my life was through a situation where the birds alerted me to a Mountain Lion who was stalking me, but that's a story for another time.

The birds also talk to each other for their survival. They warn each other of approaching danger, and there are plenty of killers out there going after birds, some of the worst are other birds. There are dramas happening in the natural world, even in your own backyard, that are just as, if not more engaging than any action thriller you could watch on TV or read about. The birds are telling a story. It's a story that includes us, and all we have to do is learn how to listen.


"Be like the bird who, pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing she hath wings."
~Victor Hugo
About the author

Nicole Young

Nicole began her journeys in nature early on with a feral childhood in the semi-rural outskirts of San Diego. Nicole spent a number of years in early adulthood, exploring the possibility of living completely off the land with just a knife and the clothing on her back; learning the skills of tracking, survival, and deep nature connection. Nicole realized at a point on this journey that living off the land for the remainder of her days would not be much of a service to humanity, and has since committed herself to help others connect to nature, and their inner calling. Nicole co-founded the 8 Shields Institute with her husband Jon Young and Mark Morey, which offers, programs, products, and services that help people connect deeply to their gifts and purpose, the earth, and their fellow human begins. Nicole also co-founded and created the Regenerative Design and Nature Awareness Program with her husband Jon Young, James Stark, and Penny Livingston Stark. This program is in its 7th year, and is a personal transformation process that connects people deeply to themselves and nature, and offers experience in regenerative living practices and community building skills. Nicole is now living in gorgeous Bonny Doon, CA with her husband, Jon Young, and her two children, Willa and Finch.