On the first day that Ani and I moved into the new flat, a small, unidentified flying object hopped in through the big glass doors to say hello. He looked a bit like a sparrow, but his legs were too long. A bit like a thrush, but he was too small… it took a while to work out that he…or she…was a juvenile robin. Symbolically, the robin is a harbinger of renewal and new beginnings, so it seemed rather appropriate that he should be my first visitor… especially with what was going on with my son and the changes that would bring too.
Since then, the robin has dropped by almost every day, waiting where I put the scraps until I come out and feed him. I have watched as he has grown, seeing the baby feathers start to change and the first traces of colour show on his breast. Gradually, I have seen the colour spread until he is almost just like any other robin. Except, he isn’t.
Robins are renowned for being friendly creatures…largely, it is thought, because they know that humans dig up worms and fill bird tables. Nick has had a breeding pair in his garden since last year and they have become pretty tame…which is only fair given how well he has fed them. I generally get a robin when we visit ancient sites too and for me, they have had a special place in my heart since the children brought an injured one home for me to heal.
But I’ve never known a wild, uninjured robin this tame before. He sits on the table and calls me if I haven’t fed him when he’s ready. He sits by my feet while I feed him. The neighbours must think I’m a lunatic… we have long conversations as he sits on the fence within a foot of my face, with his head on one side, listening.
“Crazy bird lady,” said my younger son. “…as well as crazy dog lady…” I thought it better not to mention adders or llamas at this point. “…and crazy fish lady.” In fact, there wasn’t much I could say really. I talk to things. They don’t seem to mind. The robin didn’t even mind being called a scruffy looking article… but then, none of these creatures speak English, so they aren’t confused by the difference between words and actions… they only hear what is in a voice. But perhaps they are not judging their safety by sound.
Maybe they just know when something is wrong or right, listening to that sixth sense that we too possess but often override with logic or self-doubt. We have been taught that the five senses are the limit of our physical interaction with the world for so long that any talk of a sixth sense smacks of the supernatural. My own feeling is that the sixth sense is akin to both instinct and what we call intuition or ‘gut feeling’ and could be seen as the sense that makes sense of complex collections of sensory impressions, gathering and reading the slightest nuance and arriving at a simple conclusion, almost instantaneously. This would make that sixth sense both superb and natural.
It isn’t some airy-fairy theory, but ties in with recognised psychological states. Vigilance keeps us safe, but its pathological variant, hyper-vigilance, is an exhausting condition of being permanently alert to potential threats. The idea of sensory processing sensitivity has given rise to a nascent understanding of the ‘highly sensitive person’, defined as being “more aware of subtleties and [able to] process information in a deeper, more reflective way.” These states and modes of being affect the way we perceive the world.
You could call that sixth sense perception… dependent on the five senses to collect information that is processed by something other than the sensory nerves. If you add in other unseen ‘senses’, like empathy and compassion, to that iinterpretation of information, I think you could explain a lot of what is classed as unusual acuity or even psychism as an acutely developed response to ‘gut feeling’….one that is both trusted and acted upon. Not so much supernatural as hyper-natural. The enhanced awareness that comes with such practices as mindfulness or meditation seems to increase this capacity for acute observation. Like anything else, some will be more talented than others in that area, just as some have a talent for art or music, where others have a facility for creating laughter or making a home.
I have to wonder how differently we would see each other and our fellow creatures, and what a difference we could make to the world, if we taught our children how to be mindful, or how to meditate… and that there are more ways of interacting with the world, its creatures and each other than through the five physical senses of which we ourselves were taught.