Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Hummingbirds-Fierce Guardians of the Real

I was thinking this morning about images that might help bring what I call the practice of spiritual ecology into sharper awareness. Just a while ago, an Anna's hummingbird came to my window and hung for a few seconds, not three feet away. The brilliant magenta gorget flashed for an instant, and then he was gone. I started to think about what I've experienced of hummingbirds. First came an awed appreciation of hummingbirds just for their being in the world. They are a remarkable emergence. There are many reasons: their lightness, their beauty, their size, their color, their adroitness and quickness. All of these add up to familiar qualities associated with them—lightness and joy.

But there is a quality of hummingbirds that I feel is even more compelling in a time when so much of the planet is in peril. It's an attribute of these small birds that many find difficult—they fight a lot. Hardly an image to inspire the peace activist or the advocate for cooperation. Here's another way to see it: Hummingbirds are fierce guardians of what they perceive to be of ultimate value—nectar. And here is the challenge to the human, our human version, in our higher order of evolutionary complexity, of this fierce guardianship: We must be fierce in our guardianship of what is of ultimate value to us. When I say ultimate, I mean fundamental. And by fundamental, I mean primal. "The ultimate nature of things," to draw on Alfred North Whitehead. The beauty and integrity of planet Earth is something worth being compassionately fierce about.

There's another reason to value the hummer's fierce obsession with nectar. It has ignited a unique kind of co-evolution deepening the diversity of flowers on Earth. Actually, a particular kind of flower called "ornithophilous" flower, or, bird-loving flowers. The next time you stop to admire penstemon, or similarly shaped flower, thank the hummingbird for its obsession with nectar. Our own obsession with what nourishes us can elicit such creativity. To move toward what most deeply moves us is a move toward the affirmation of life, the lure of being for being that gives rise to further complexification. Let me add here that the hummingbird's singular obsession with nectar gave rise not only to new forms of flowers, but to a remarkable array of color in the plumage of the hummingbird itself. Its resemblance to the vivid color of nectar flowers may help protect it from predators.

What does this "coat of many colors" inspire in the human? What I felt when I first saw the purple flash of Lucifer's hummingbird's throat—a deep desire to put into words what took my breath away. The result has been a cascade of linguistic attempts to capture the evolutionary array of hummingbird plumage. Here's a sample: Long-billed starthroat, black-throated mango, fork-tailed woodnymph, blossomcrown, purple-crowned fairy, the Magnificent, black-hooded sunbeam, to name a few. And perhaps my favorite: the sparkling violetear.

I invite you to share images of your own on this blog. Add to the "blizzard of images" cosmologist Brian Swimme says we need to move our imagination beyond its fixation with industrial culture.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lauren, thank you for pointing out the fierceness found in the hummingbird. I hear them all the time outside my window. What I perceived to be playing I now know thanks to you is fighting. This gives me a whole new perspective of the hummingbirds and their cries of protection that I hear all day long. I think fierceness is a key to the answer to the puzzle we find ourselves embroiled in right now. Anger has become politically incorrect, but I find everything too neatly glossed over and I also find a call for compassion before feelings have even been felt. A friend told me recently--fierceness is anger transmuted. Those fierce little hummingbirds protecting what they passionately adore and thereby shaping evolution is an image that will stay with me for a while.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find your comments on the hummingbirds a wonderful experience of synchronicity, as I just had my first tattoo put on my back behind my heart chakra- the celtic tree of life surrounded by a ring of 6 Anna's hummingbirds. I chose them for many of the reasons you state- their beauty, their FIERCE protection of their little piece of earth, and also for the fact that they are a symbol of joy in Native American spirituality. The combination of Joy and Protection is a necessary part of my life as a spiritual activist. In these times of overwhelming challenges to weather the Great Turning, as my teacher Joanna Macy puts it, one must always find the well of Joy to draw from. Hummingbirds never fail to make me stop in pure amazement and joy.

2:58 PM  

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