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Lessons from nature in turbulent times



In the face of uncertainty, we must spread our wings

like wild geese and release our fear of flying


by Catherine J. Rourke

Published December 17, 2009


Oh to fly like them! To ride the skyways across rivers and forests!

Life on earth is such a creeping, crawling business. Flying in formation can free us from the tyranny of life’s petty disputes.                         

                                                                                                           Richard Bach


Do you find your tides ebbing and sands shifting lately, with mighty winds of change blowing you in uncertain directions? Has the rug been pulled from underneath you like a giant tidal wave?

It’s no secret that many people are experiencing tremendous upheaval right now. In times of such dramatic change, we can find more wisdom in nature than on all of the Worldwide Web by watching how other creatures manage unpredictable and often treacherous conditions to their distinct advantage.

An enthralling spectacle awaits us, even in the blight of winter, as flocks of wild geese and ducks take flight and disappear into the soft distant mist with a great commotion. Later, after announcing their approach with massive honking or quacking, they cascade back into the water in an exquisitely poetic landing, their wings gracefully disrupting the calm surface as they glide across it like skilled surfers.

If we pause long enough to shift our gaze away from all those manmade “navigation” screens – Smartphones, Kindles, Nooks, i-Pads, PSP’s and GPS devices − to marvel at this spectacle unfolding on the sky’s natural screen, our headaches magically melt away along with all those “micro-pseudo-urgencies” of modern life. Here we can also discover a vital lesson for navigating through tough times. 

We versus me: the magic of “V”

These magnificent birds always take wing in a set formation, with each one taking its turn in rotation to lead the flock at the apex of the flying V. This means that an individual bird does not have to work as hard, and its heart rate drops. As a result, the flock does not tire as quickly and is able to fly farther.

Studies show that a flock of 25 birds in “V” formation can increase flight efficiency and travel greater distances by much as 71% more than a solo bird using the same amount of energy. This cyclical rearrangement gives all birds the responsibility of being the leader as well as a chance to enjoy the benefits of coasting in the middle of the formation.

From this we learn that by working together in harmony, unity and cooperation, we can go the greater mile than when going it alone. How can we use this principle to accomplish more, with less time and effort, as a community and society, to reach a common goal? If we share the glories of leadership, with a willingness to step down and shoulder the burdens with mutual respect, how could we improve conditions in the workplace, home or public arena?

Constant contact

The flying “V” formation also allows birds to communicate more easily, with good visual contact of each other to keep the flock together.

Ever notice the racket when these birds fly overhead? They quack or honk to encourage the ones up front to keep flapping their wings. This communication also minimizes the possibility of losing birds along the way as the formation crosses vast distances during migration.

The lesson for our grounded species is obvious. Do we remain silent or offer others encouragement in times of strife? Do we clam up and ignore neighbors or friends in need or extend words of compassion? 

In these times, how might we be losing members of our flock and letting them fall into the abyss instead of keeping them uplifted with our support?

Loyalty or abandonment?

Amazingly, a great number of these birds mate for life, including geese, swans, eagles and some species of ducks. They stick together through thick and thin. In sickness and in health. And even in death.


Another interesting fact is that a sick, exhausted or injured bird that has to leave the formation never remains alone. Instead, other geese or ducks accompany the departing bird to assist, protect and support it until it either dies or is able to fly again. Then they rejoin the flock in their own “V” formation.

Certainly this brings to mind the disabled, indigent, homeless, sick or working poor members of our community who remain shut out by our nation’s crippled medical and social service systems, without care or support. More importantly, it's also about reaching out to our friends, families and companions when they're down and out instead of abandoning them altogether.

While no bird would ever dream of doing that to a member of its flock, humans do it to their own families and friends every day.

On a simpler level, do we stop to assist people in need, such as a broken-down motorist? How can we become less self-absorbed and extend our hearts and hands out to others?

The “C” formation: a circle of community spirit

Nature doesn’t hurry and even slows down with the onset of winter, yet it remains highly productive. The beaver never runs out of wood or water and works cooperatively to fortify these resources into magnificent works of hydrological architecture. The tiniest ants procure food in the harshest environments due to their collaborative social structure.

If we applied this same teamwork approach from nature, it could make our lives a whole lot easier. But are we willing to share our problems and resources or continue squabbling over our own slice of the pie? How can we take turns at the apex of the “V” formation and lead the “flock”?

Perhaps we need to shift into “C” formation: a collaborative circle that benefits all members of the community.


By sticking together in a sphere of radiant energy, we can face any uncertainty or challenge both individually and collectively. And there are many simple ways in which we shine our lights the brightest in these troubled times.

Reach out to that stray animal you find wandering along the road. Then wave at road crews working in the cold and rain. And the person who drops off your mail or picks up your trash.

Return your shopping cart to the store entrance instead of leaving it in the parking lot. Show compassion for the cashier who has faced public onslaught for hours and who probably is dying for a break. Ask retail clerks how their day is going. Thank the janitor for cleaning and stocking the public restroom or a waitress for serving on the holidays.

Lend a hand to busy families. Deliver a cooked meal. Baby sit or pet sit. Bring flowers to a shut-in senior. Leave a treat for a delivery person. Help someone having financial difficulty. Listen without interrupting or judging. Send an inspirational note to someone experiencing rough times. Plant seeds of kindness wherever possible.

Restrain from saying anything negative today. Dare to see the glass half-full rather than half-empty. Give freely of yourself. Laugh your butt off. Be appreciative.

We have so much to be thankful for where I live: no freeway gridlock, drive-by shootings or smog. But even if you live with those conditions, find some silver lining to focus your gratitude upon.

The big picture

Let’s honk and quack like our winged friends above, who may really be shouting at us to “get it together” for a new era of we versus me. That’s what “comm-UNITY” spirit embodies – all of us working collaboratively in a way that benefits every inhabitant of the planet, including the mulitdimensional trees, plants and animals, and makes it a better place.

When we do this, we are “flying in formation,” working smarter, not harder, to access greater joy and freedom in uncertain times.

With a clearer understanding of the “big picture,” we can begin to navigate the new paradigm focused on the common good rather than the self. Flying in formation, together we can navigate through the unknown future with less struggle or discomfort and, like the birds, without resisting the winds of change.

Instead, we look to the skies to embrace the birds' wisdom of courage in the face of often turbulent conditions, belief that they will find food, surrender to the elements and trust that they will be guided to their next destination and place of rest.

This way we can create compassionate environments that nurture and fulfill every member of our community and inhabitant of the planet as we celebrate our interdependence and oneness with all life.

Birds trust they will be intuitively guided in their quest for food, shelter and direction. They tackle wind and water together; stand by their sick or injured; ride out the storms; and then sing afterwards.

Why can’t we?


Catherine Rourke is an investigative social justice journalist who writes about health care reform, truth in medicine and work-life balance issues. In 2007 her columns won the state’s most distinguished press recognition - a "Journalist of the Year Award” – from the Arizona Press Club and she received 8 First Place national and state press awards last year for her work in The Sedona Observer.

Click on the links below to read Rourke's Reports in The Sedona Observer.

From Truth in Medicine to Invisible Sedona and Labor and Workplace, her columns continue to captivate the Observer's free subscribers across the nation and around the globe.




In perusing your site found this article. I posted this very theme on my blog last week about the beautiful Geese in a video (not my video, just a good one). 

Feathered Inspiration What We Can Learn From Geese HQ - YouTube

Thank you for sharing!

Pamela Leigh Richards



Thank you Sedona Observer for another uplifting article. We need more refreshing stories like these instead of all the bleak and glum news reports out there. Keep 'em coming!

Heidi Fuller

Burlington, VT


 Rourke's Reports in The Sedona Observer

The Award-Winning INVISIBLE SEDONA series


The Award-Winning TRUTH IN MEDICINE series

"Health Sentinel" journalist Catherine Rourke puts the medical stethoscope under the media microscope



The Economics of Breast Cancer



Special Award-Winning Environmental Report

"Barking Up the Wrong Tree"

Sycamores: Disposable or Indispensable?

The remarkable story that saved Sedona's heritage trees

and reinvented local community journalism



Rourke's Workplace and Labor Reports



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