Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness – a book of healing and trust

Joe’s Harkness’s Bird Therapy is a thing of healing.

This is a man that has been to the lowest emotional point; the first few opening lines allow a glimpse of the depths of colourlessness that depression can bring, the point at which the pain comes to zero, and there seems nothing left to value, not even life.

Don’t be deterred; there’s great courage here. Through relatable accounts of his re-connection of a life-love of birds, and new paths found, Joe finds his way back from the brink of nothingness to somewhere good, somewhere of vibrance and of song. And he brings us all along with him.

In dealing with times of extreme emotional distress, trust is a key issue in seeking ways of moving through them. We are all unique and respond accordingly. Who, and in what, should we trust? It’s one of the biggest questions in life. Joe’s patience, as a teacher of, and for, children with special behavioural needs, is extended towards all who are open to healing. He’s a good man, and by his complete openness, he has easily earned my trust. 

Bird Therapy is written from the heart, and there’s no pretence. He illuminates his journey back through the shape, colour and call of the birds. From buzzards to bramblings, common and rare, resident and migrant, in all their diversity ~ like all life on Earth ~ bird wellbeing brings mind-body-spirit healing into Joe’s life.

Natural interconnected flows of life, the processes and exchanges between all life forms, are a necessity to us as part of nature. Without them, we evaporate. This is my own deep philosophy of love-ecology, which I call Fluminism. By mindfully communing with all, we can absorb ourselves in the flows and consciously perpetuate the good ones. There’s reciprocity, a strong relationship, and a hopeful message that life should and can be good. 

As a social species, relationships are crucial to us. We convene where the birds live their lives, and even in the event of Joe’s book itself. He brings people together on the pages, mentors and guides. Many have contributed funds towards the initial publication by Unbound, the world’s first crowdfunding publisher. My own name is listed in the back pages as ‘supporter.’ And I’m glad. We are all brought together and I’m grateful.

Joe is so enormously generous. From the studious engagement of bird identification and in tracking them to their flolocas, to an instinctive awareness of patience as a form of grounding, he provides so much of what we need to know to begin our own journey back. 

And with that generosity, comes another surprise – a deep reflection of his home county of Norfolk. We are there with him, from the picturesque Broads to the cobbled streets of Norwich, from the marshy edgelands to the windswept coasts of Blakeney Point. There is a deep love of place, of home. And, on top, the book is illustrated with delightful little bird drawings by Jo Brown, much in the way of Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac.

Bird Therapy is a shift from a life perspective that constantly looks inwards to one, instead, which looks out ~ we stand alongside Joe, and despite all that is thrown at us, life is much richer with the birds. Joe is proof positive ~ Bird Therapy can work, and supported by scientific research included in the text.

The book’s bright yellow cover remains one of my all-time favourites; a perfect visual summary of the story inside. Black silhouettes of a human among swifts soar upwards through time. And then onwards, slipping off the cover, with no journey’s end but healing and trust gained.

We are all unique; all with our own stories. Sometimes, the stories are searingly troubling and remove us far away from ourselves. But in reading Bird Therapy, we are graced with the option to choose Joe’s way back home, and a beautiful one at that ~ the way of the birds. 

Read too, the very moving introduction by Chris Packham. Joe’s book is available to pre-order here, as well as other good independent book shops.