What I Have Learned from the Hummingbird


A hummingbird dines on the nectar of an Althea. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford
A hummingbird dines on the nectar of an Althea. Photograph: J Gerald Crawford

FOR ABOUT A WEEK this summer, whenever I stood at the front window and looked outside at the garden below, a hummingbird would stop drinking from the zinnia’s and morning glories, and fly straight up to my eye level, and look at me before returning to her tasks.

Sometimes, I would politely ask her if she would come back and see me again, and often she would answer my request. Once, she followed me to my office door, and hovered outside the screen looking at me.

It was obvious we had communication, but I needed more. One day I said to her, “Okay, what do you want me to know? Her answer was, “Write about me,” and I said, “Okay, I will.”

I have always known that hummingbirds are my totem. Not that I knew what a totem was, but even as a child, I knew there was something about hummingbirds and me. My mom has a picture hanging in her bathroom of a hummingbird that I drew when I was about eleven. You know moms; they keep those kinds of things.

Beca Lewis
Beca Lewis

Later when I had a dance company, I named it Harbinger Dance Theatre, not knowing that being a harbinger is one of hummingbird’s strongest qualities.

Right after Del and I met, while Del was living in Ohio and I was living in California, he called me and said a hummingbird had come to him in the woods. He asked me, “What does that mean?” I didn’t know that he knew what that meant; he was seeing if I knew. He teaches that way.

I said, “That’s me.” Later that day I got a package in the mail with a beautiful hummingbird pin attached to his totem, a fox.

However, many years later while trying to describe myself to someone, I said I was like a hummingbird, and that wasn’t a good thing. “Why not,” she asked, “Show me what you mean.” So, I got up and frantically “flew” all over the room.

That’s what I felt like, moving all the time, never settling down, always flapping my wings.

“Really,” she said, “Is that what a hummingbird is like?”

After leaving her office, I did what I could have done years before and started really watching hummingbirds. It was then that I noticed something amazing. Their core is always still.

Yes, they give the impression of always moving. They flit around at an amazing speed, and their wings can beat up to two hundred beats per second. But, within that movement their tiny body is still, and that is where the power lies.

They are a perfect symbol of the power of the still small voice within, and the command “Be still, and know I Am God.”*

They embody the message that all that must be done, will be done, by staying within the core of stillness.

In Pilate’s class, we always talk about strengthening the core because that builds greater balance and strength. This is the same idea for the core of stillness. Staying with the core of the still small voice, strengthening the power of stillness, increases our ability to deal with all that life has to offer, and to do whatever is necessary.

I thought of the hummingbird’s message recently as I found myself feeling pressured and overwhelmed with too many projects coming due. It was when I found myself short of breath with the anxiety of so much to do, that I remembered the hummingbird’s message.

I stopped the crazy running around within myself, and paused. Within that pause, I felt the power of stillness, not stagnation, stillness. Within a few hours, I had easily crossed multiple things off my to-do list. I wasn’t standing still – I was staying still.

Radiating outward from their stillness, the hummingbird shows us the ease of doing what must be done, while being beautiful and inspiring at the same time.

One of the most enduring qualities of the hummingbird is its sense of play. My female hummingbird friend is always trying to get other birds to play with her.

She flits around the many feeders we have, hovering beside different birds until one agrees and off they go chasing each other. Usually it is the other playful bird, the chickadee. I wish I had ears that could hear their laughter, but I can hear it within when I am still enough.

As you can see, I did write about her, and she passed along her gratitude to Del. He was sitting outside watching the birds, and she sat on a branch above him, which by chance looks into my office window. Unknown to him, I was inside writing this message. Later, he told me she flew down and hovered in front of his face.

I think she was saying thank you.

I say thank you for the teaching of the hummingbird, who hovering outside my window, demonstrated the perfect example of the power and grace of stillness, in action.


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