Ok, I know what you are thinking.
This is a promotion for a new ultimate sleeping pillow made specifically for ninjas right? You can buy a ninja blender, so why not a ninja pillow. I'm sure it's already been thought of. But I'm avoiding the urge to google it right now.
This is a different kind of pillow. This pillow comes with an added serving of instinctual training, a helping of bird language, and a pinch of baseline in this recipe.
Oh, and it is free and always available.
Today we have a bird language story plus a fun instinctual training exercise by Sensei Roemke. And, we will relate everything to this mysterious aforementioned pillow.
I want to share a short story that just happened to me on my back porch as I was watching the sunrise, drinking my morning mate, and tuning into the language of the birds.
What's bird language? If you didn't catch the recent blog by Jon Young, who literally wrote the book on bird language, I highly recommend that you check it out. He talks about why ninjas should listen to the birds.
Back to my porch.
It's spring here, and the bird activity is off the charts, especially at dawn. The dawn chorus, when the birds wake up and begin singing in full force, is starting well before 6 am here. This morning I grabbed my morning brew and went to my favorite chair on my back porch to tune my ears into the bird language.
My first thought...I need to recalibrate baseline.
What is baseline?
The natural world has its own daily and seasonal rhythms. To know baseline means that you tune your awareness into this pattern of the symphony of nature that happens all around you. The animals have patterns of activity, much like you and I. Naturalist Dan Gardoqui spoke about how he uses baseline to get close to animals for photography or hunting in a recent post.
At my previous home in California, I had some neighbors whom you could set your watch by. As I sat on my front porch at dawn to listen to the birds, the baker at the local donut shop would walk by. A couple minutes later, a local jogger in a funny 1980's sweat suit would run by heading east. He wore those old-school giant headphones with the antennas sticking out of them. Loved watching that guy. Always made me smile.
Think of the animals similarly. Okay, maybe not with the headphones. The red squirrels in my yard have their morning feeding routines and routes. The same is true with the birds.
There is a baseline to the daily sounds of the birds that is like the score to a musical song. There are crescendos of sound, times of quiet, and then more peaks throughout the day. For example, at sunrise during the dawn chorus, there is a peak of singing, as if the birds are claiming once again...
"I'm alive! The owl did not eat me! Hey! This is my territory!"
After this, the singing typically will settle down as the birds remember..."I'm hungry!" and start putting less energy into singing, and more into feeding. After a full belly, there may be times of rest and quiet (sound familiar?), and then more occasional song to maintain territory. Then at the end of the day there is often a lot of nervous singing and posturing as birds announce territory one more time before scrambling to find a perch to roost upon.
The key to bird language is to recognize baseline, which is a state of activity when the birds aren't having their lives threatened. Then, notice the deviations from this normal relaxed state. These deviations often appear as alarm calls from the birds.
Here's a simple visual of what baseline with the birds can look like.
But...here's the catch. Baseline for the birds shifts seasonally, and even daily if things like storms approach. Once birds are sitting on eggs, the adult singing diminishes.
Because there are a LOT of nest predators out there looking for tasty snacks. The birds need to go into stealth mode. Things get even more paranoid with the adults once a bunch of loud-mouthed, uncoordinated, hungry nestlings hatch and then fledge the nest. It's like ringing the dinner bell for the hawks.
For most species of birds, fewer than 50% of of the birds that hatch make it to adulthood. Think about what that means in terms of bird awareness of predators.
So...back to my porch.
I was settling in, hot cup of brew in my hand. The thought in my head was ..."I wonder what baseline looks like this morning?"
But then, unexpectedly things took a left turn into the instinctual zone.
Pillow of silence!
I hadn't even had a chance to start mentally mapping all the cardinal and chickadee vocal locations when this thought popped into my head.
One of the things I've learned over the years from both tracking and martial arts instructors who teach instinctual training is this- "trust your gut" or to trust your first impression. Otherwise, the mind jumps in and starts to mess things up by analyzing and confusing things.
So what is a pillow of silence? This is a concept I learned from Jon Young. Basically silence is an alarm.
Imagine you are at a crowded music concert (remember those?). Everyone is dancing and singing. Then suddenly the music stops. Everyone stops dancing, gets quiet and stares in one direction. It would most likely freak you out and make you really nervous. You would be in a pillow of silence.
The same thing happens in the bird world. The cause of this is often a bird of prey such as a Cooper's hawk. These hawks are designed to survive by feeding on other birds. And they are sneaky and quiet. Imagine an assassin that lurked outside your home every day, with big daggers on the end of their limbs, waiting to pounce on you. Welcome to the world of the little chickadee.
As I shifted my awareness to three dimensional listening- in front, behind, right, left, above, and below me where I sat on my porch, I noticed a few things.
The chickadees were singing their morning "cheeseburger" territorial song, but they were farther away than usual, as if a big bubble had pushed them away all around me.
I noticed too on the ground in the yard below our porch, there were no birds feeding. During baseline, birds are relaxed. Feeding on the ground casually is an example of birds behaving in baseline. Usually our yard would have sparrows, juncos, robins, and cardinals hopping about on the ground searching for breakfast.
Hmm. I thought. I wonder if there is a Cooper's hawk around?
No sooner had I thought this, when I noticed the flapping of wings in the top of the white pine on the north side of our yard. A moment later a Coopers Hawk flew out and headed to some trees on the south side of our yard. As it did this robins erupted in what is known as a "bullet" flight as they flew away from the hawk, and a blue jay flew to a "sentinel" perch in the top of a nearby pine to watch, both alarm behaviors.
Within just a couple minutes of the hawk's departure, a downy woodpecker began its territorial drumming from the pine next to our yard where the hawk had emerged. Then, the chickadees all moved closer to the periphery of our yard and resumed their "cheeseburger" songs.
The quiet buffer zone I witnessed is known as a pillow of silence. Typically, everywhere a Cooper's hawk flies, it creates these zones of silence and stillness in the birds around it.
But then my yard became quiet again. This time, however, it had a different feel to it.
A robin landed in the yard and started hunting, as did a cardinal. Feeding time. A bluebird flew by and landed on the top of our birdhouse that we recently built to poke its head in the nest box hole. This was a return to baseline.
Learning bird language is one of the best ways to train your "spidey" senses. At first you don't have to know the names of the birds, or who is making the song, though eventually it will help. If you listen deeply you can feel the level of intensity in their songs or alarms.
When you hear a bird, ask yourself...how does that sound feel? Is it nervous, relaxed, contacting it's mate? This is the first step to understanding bird language.
In the Bujinkan, there is a well known test that is given to those going for their 5th degree black belt, or Godan. In this test a Dai Shihan or the Grandmaster Hatsumi Sensei will stand behind the kneeling ninja student while holding a training sword above their head. The student must sense the exact moment when the sword is coming down toward their head in order to roll out of the way.
At Pathways Dojo, we occasionally practice other methods for training our instinctual awareness. Check out the Energy Sensing video below by Dai Shihan Mark Roemke. This is a fun activity that we do in the dojo to heighten our sensitivity.
Next time you head outside, see if you can sense baseline and the alarms. The pillow is free. It's always been around you. It just takes practice to learn to recognize it. Who knows, it might even help you detect that sword behind you one day.