A hummingbird has been trying to tell me something this week. He hovered outside my window for a few seconds one day, expending probably hundreds of his precious heartbeats to make sure I’d notice, then zoomed away only to return several times during the morning for a repeat performance.
According to a book I once read on Native American understanding of animals, hummingbirds bring joy and the nectar of life. The first day, I went outside to see if something remarkably joyful might bump into me. A tree had opened up the first of its delicate white blossoms, but that didn’t quite seem to be it. I stood under the tree waiting for a long-lost friend to happen along, but nothing happened.
The next day I was still trying to figure it out—I had a blog to write after all—but I wasn’t making much progress. Then he came back and hung out so close to the window it looked as if he could tap his beak on the glass.
I confess I wasn’t doing a great job of practicing joy on these days. Most of my practice consisted of self-imposed stress and feelings of inadequacy. Not everything that happens in this life is joyful. There’s more than enough pain and grief to go around. But I know there are plenty of opportunities for joy that I don’t take, that it’s not regularly my baseline approach to the day.
As I was driving home that second day, it occurred to me that perhaps there’s nothing to figure out. Joy is there waiting for us and all we have to do is open the window.
There are some really efficient people in this world, but I am not one of them. I am slow—at just about everything—and yet I want to be one of those people who gets a lot done.
I probably should not answer the “how am I doing at this life thing anyway?” question by counting tasks accomplished because the result will not be pretty. For other people, this approach might really work. Martha Stewart is probably a kick-ass list-item crosser-offer.
My measurement system, on the other hand, needs to include such things as, did I notice the hummingbird hovering near the bottle brush tree? Did I taste my food rather than just gobble it down so I could go to the gym at lunch? Paying attention to these details makes me feel more alive and, as Howard Thurman says, “What the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Now you might say, doesn’t everyone want more hummingbirds in their life? If so, then the joy and peace quotient can only increase if people hang feeders and spend their evenings watching the little guys buzz each other.
But maybe not everyone is interested in hummingbirds. Not everyone wants to write—some people really enjoy being accountants. I am not making this up, though it is as incomprehensible to me as my voluntarily choosing to write a blog is to them.
Is it cheating to pick the indicators that will reveal we’re all doing a great job? Maybe, but would you choose an architect based on what kind of omelet he makes? No, so if you’re a born omelet-maker, why judge yourself on the kind of blueprints you draw just because the society you happen to live in thinks blueprint drawing is really cool?
It’s often hard to discern whether we’re omelet-makers, lawyers, or musicians, but if we measure our accomplishments in units of liveliness, we will head in the right direction.