It’s hummingbird season here in the Pacific Northwest. In many cultures, hummingbirds are a symbol of joy, sweetness and balance.
They seem like tiny angels whose very existence is a miracle. They go from flower to feeder in a nectar-scented cloud, defying the laws of gravity. They weigh less than an ounce, and flap their tiny wings 40-80 times per second.
However, they have another side. (Cue ominous music…)
This week I’ve been watching the Rufous and Anna’s at the feeder on our front window, spellbound by their tiny antics. I’ve noticed that…
- They are constantly chasing each other while emitting a helicopter-like buzzing sound and flaring their tail feathers to look bigger.
- They swoop down with their tiny needle-like beaks poised for a fight.
- While feeding, they remain vigilant, perched on eyelash-sized feet. They take breaks from drinking to scan the skies and trees, ready to attack if anyone should interrupt their meal, their thread-like tongues flicking out to get the last drops of nectar. (Table sugar boiled in water on my kitchen stove.)
I’ve been tempted to think that their joyful reputation was an oversimplification based on lack of understanding, since clearly they aren’t always in a good mood, let alone an angelic one.
And then it occurred to me: why should it be a contradiction to be a joyful warrior?
Our culture places these paradigms at opposite ends of a spectrum, implying that joy comes only through peace, or even passivity. And a warrior must be ever-vigilant to trouble, warding off feelings of contentment or rapture with adrenaline.
In my experience, however, joy arises when we create the conditions for it. It naturally emerges from a set of circumstances that are often of our own making. For example, when I get enough sleep, eat some protein for breakfast and spend 30 minutes engaged with the natural world in the morning, I tend toward Joy.
If I stay up too late watching Breaking Bad, have a cherry pop-tart for breakfast and start my workday in my pajamas, I tend toward stress, the opposite of Joy.
We often know exactly what we need to do to create the conditions for joy. The tough part, the part that requires a warrior’s focus and strength, is summoning the discipline to do what joy requires. In other words:
It takes work and discipline to create the conditions for joy.
A tiny creature that migrates about 5,000 miles each year must be very strong and vigilant to stay aloft and fed. So don’t you deserve the right to tend to your own basic needs for balance? Your existence is just as miraculous as a hummingbird’s.