Animal Meditations: Scarlet Macaws as an Example
To better know a parrot is to engage in growing your Multispecies Intelligence (MI). This is a way to increase our empathy and knowledge, so that we increase parrots' chances for flourishing and decrease harm that might come their way through human malfeasance. To increase MI, we use our whole bodies, including our minds, to experience being the other individual (in this case, individual parrot). Then we study and conduct research, so that we can confirm our understandings and check our assumptions. The final step is to make a promise to complete a concrete action and to consider making a life vow in solidarity with all of life.
Step 1 – Birds Beyond Words
Pick any individual animal, preferably one with whom you are near in space and time. Then, with as little as movement as possible, observe them. Imagine that you are them and moving as they are. If you can do so without disturbing the animal, move as they do. If you cannot be with another animal, choose a picture or a video for this exercise. If you are using the macaw meditation above, as you listen to it imagine your body moving as the birds do, or if you can, move your body along with the meditation as if you are stretching your wings, climbing, turning your head, climbing, preening, sleeping, and eating.
Step 2 – Birds with Words
After you finish this exercise make a list of all the feeling, emotions, and body states of the macaws. Were they quiet, sleepy, resting, or scanning their environment? This could be described as a low arousal state, such as feeling comfortable. We may then think of "feelings" words that might match what the birds were experiencing. Keep in mind that the use of human language to guess the body states of ourselves, let alone another species, is an approximation to help us “get into the feathers of another.” You might also want to add the feelings of love, joy, thrill, fear, hunger, anxiety, or irritation. Some of these might be described as higher arousal states, and might be uncomfortable for the animals. Some feelings might be motivators to move the bird away from situations of harm or discomfort, while others compel them to move towards satisfaction and beneficial experiences.
Now make a list of the needs of the birds that are connected to the feelings. What do the birds need? Your list can be quite short and address the broadest generalization of needs: Satisfaction? Benefit? Avoiding harm? Avoiding discomfort? You can then fill the list in with more precise needs that have to do with nutrition, body health and safety, environmental state (heat, cold), positive behavior (mating, feeding, preening), and mental state (ease, fun, arousal). You can also list needs that might be more human centered such as belonging, care, friendship, fairness, justice, etc.
With your list in hand, then do some research, online or in books, to see where your assumptions might be misguided. Humans tend to make two basic kinds of “errors” in understating others. Either we think they are nothing like us (anthropocentrism) or that they are entirely like us (anthropomorphism). Most human cultures have trained our brains to commit these two errors, but we can lessen this tendency by being as much of an unbiased observer as possible. Now refine your list of feelings, needs, motivators, and behaviors.
Step 3 – Doing the Beauty that You and They Are
Now that you know more about the macaw, or any other species you have chosen, return to putting yourself into their feathers. What are they saying to you? What might they be asking of you? Is there anything that arises in you that you could commit to doing now, so as to be in solidarity with this species, or to care for them? Perhaps you will vow to learn more about parrots. Or maybe you will share this meditation or story with another person. It could be that you’d like to donate to parrot conservation, or create an art piece that shows the family life of macaws. Pick one small, concrete thing that you can do that can be undertaken in the very near future. Then you might also want to consider a life vow. What is the beauty and tragedy of a macaw’s life saying to you? How do you want to live? This is a more general promise that guides you subtly through the days. For instance, you might say that you will be solidarity with all parrots and beings everywhere, honoring and sharing their beauty and dignity.
Whatever you do or experience with this meditation, would you let us know?
Also, if you’d like to know more about Multispecies Intelligence, please see various videos we have on our website and our book, Nurturing Discussions and Practices: Nurturing Nature, Yourself, and Your Relationships.