In The Night - Pain, Birds and Trees Teaching

In the Night – Pain, Birds and trees is a teaching for when you cannot get outside to make contact with nature directly. This comes from my direct experience at home this week in the middle of the night.

Three am and the second night in a row waking up in extreme pain. As I lay there with every nerve on fire I felt the physical weight of my body on the bed. The air coming in through the open window was warm and damp, smelling of wet earth. That rich deep mossy smell that comes when dry earth and vegetation is kissed by the rain. …'petrichor'.

My physical self was struggling, with the pain and the weight of the sheets. Even one light sheet was aggravating and unbearable. I couldn’t find a comfortable way to lie, yet to move was worse. Lay there in the lonely hours I could not find one part of myself that did not feel as it were being flayed alive.

The fatigue experienced over the years had got worse until it became full blown chronic fatigue or ME (myalgic encephalitis as it is also known). Then came the pain. It started in my calf muscles but over time moved up to fill my entire body. At its worst it affects even my fingers. A small thing such as typing becomes very taxing. When the pain is really bad it affects my concentration.

So, now I lay on my bed with this very intense physical experience. I have done a lot to work with this disease, different foods, trying different minerals, but mostly through my experiences with nature. I have had some success, but, as those that suffer with these conditions it is more a case of learning to manage it.

Back to the night...


Approaching Midsummer the night is not the inky dark of winter, but still has some lightness to it. This night was perfectly still and silent after the rain. Not a breath came through the open window. As I lay consumed with the sensation of nothing but pain it seemed that I was filled with a never ending wave of suffering.

I sought to reach out some kind of sense, to something other, to something outside of myself.

Gradually the birds started calling. It started with a sparrow tweet outside my window …. Then another tweet … and then another.

Then other sparrows joined in. Beyond them some pigeons started to call a little further away. On the layer of pain, the sounds came into the room and I listened to their shape and form. I could hear the character of each bird call in its sound.

The sparrows’ tweets, short and sweet, punctuated the silence. I listened, and as I listened they created space in the silence. The pigeon calls were longer, lower pitched, softer. They created a depth to the sound field. The silence became three dimensional. Now there was a layer of pain and a layer of silence resting on it. Gradually the sound gained greater depth.


The birds carried on their calls.

The still air smelling of damp earth and plants filled the room and became a part of the deep silence that the birds sounds now dropped into. Sparrow tweets and pigeon calls were joined by the melodic song of a blackbird weaving its way between them somewhere in the middle distance.

Tweet, tweet ,coo, trill-sing-song-whistle, tweet, tweet, coo, hoo, trill-sing-song-whistle. And so, it went on and the sounds became a kind of music and a spell of beauty. At first it was like pebbles dropped in to a pool. These pebbles were being witnessed from under the water as they dropped in. Seeing the sounds as physical objects dropping into a pond, air bubbles rising up as the pebbles of different sizes sink through the water. Coo-hoo, tweet, sing-song-trill……..

A magpie came and its raspy ack, ack, ack punctuated the spaces between the other notes like a percussion instrument in the melody. The sounds all had sizes and shapes and textures. They had space and time. They had melody. They created music of great depth and beauty.

Lay in the pain of my Self, I had poured all my efforts into listening. My hearing, damaged in one ear from childhood measles, still delights in sound. When I connect with nature a part of myself opens up to beyond ‘just hearing’. The listening becomes more of an engaging, an interacting with the world. More than this, one is drawn into the world. Sound itself becomes a living being.

The Spirit-of-the-Moment poured into the room. It brought peace and stillness.

Birds are spell casters summoning great beauty into being. Their sound becomes something other. The very air itself becomes spirit, it becomes energy that weaves itself around the body. The deeper I listened, the deeper I gave myself to the listening, and the more Nature, the more life itself, the more the Earth itself, came in through the window. The room was filled with sound that had become this ‘something other’. This radiant, musical, three dimensional energetic presence.

The sparrows were in the conifers outside my window. The pigeons just across the road in the sycamores and oaks by the cricket pitch. The Magpie was in the Lime tree just down the street. Where would I be without their beautiful calls to save me? Where would they be without the trees they call home?

Life, it is beautiful, it is terrible. As a wise older friend of mine says. Living and dying woven together in every moment.

When the pain is like this it feels like every cell is dying a death over and over and over, yet being alive to experience this continual Sisyphean torture. Some days this body dies a death, pulled apart yet to be remade only to die again.

As the tears run down my face both of the pain I am currently in and for the gratitude, I hope you can see, I hope you can understand … that this is not about someone who lay in a room one night but is really about the great beauty that poured in through the open window and is all around us.

To get beyond the small self … that is the Nature of the teaching.

I haven’t been able to do anything today. It is now half past six in the evening. It has taken quite a while to get this typed. So why bother? Because my debt is to the natural world, to this world I am a part of. It deserves its service, it deserves its' recognition. In a day where ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ have been crushed once again, for the second day running, what else is there? And, in these times where nature itself is so often dying a continual death with no hope for renewal of life, it is the least I can do to acknowledge the debt I owe to something far greater than myself.


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