Sitting above the sea, I let my sadness drift toward the blue waters. I feel grateful for the feeling of peace that enters my chest, spacious and gentle. I let go. I breathe.
In the early weeks of an extended stay in Caribbean, I noticed an Antillean crested hummingbird visiting the bush right next to our deck. I found this curious, as the plant had no flowers, but gave it little thought. When I discovered her making a nest there, it made sense. She worked steadily over a few days, weaving tiny bits of fluff with her beak and feet, creating a two-inch basket for her eggs.
After she laid one teensy egg, but wasn’t sitting on the nest very much, I learned that hummingbirds usually lay two eggs one or two days apart that hatch at the same time. Sure enough, the next day another egg appeared and the mother bird got down to the serious business of incubation. I checked in many times a day, took pictures and shared the story with friends and family. This little hummingbird had many people following her story with a sense of wonder and joy.
Several days into the incubation period, when I peeked in, the nest was gone! My heart sped up and I acted fast. My family and I found the nest, with one egg still inside. Sadly, the other had already become food for the ants. The leaf that she had attached the nest to had begun to decay and fallen off. We taped the leaf back on to the branch, winding masking tape around the stem. I was worried the mother would abandon the nest. I don’t know if she was off getting food while we were repairing the nest or if she saw us and patiently kept at a distance, but there she was minutes later, sitting on her remaining egg. I felt a surge of relief.
At this point, I began seriously contemplating nonattachment as I realized I had no idea what might happen. Would the egg survive? Would the nest? Would one of the many birds of prey make a quick meal of our little bird? As I worked actively on letting go of the outcome, I increasingly appreciated how special it was to bear witness to this singular life event and feel connected to this particular hummingbird.
The Story Unfolds
Eighteen days after that first little egg appeared, when I looked into the nest my heart fell – I saw nothing. At least not at first. Then I realized there was a tiny dark squiggly blob – a baby! But after fierce winds, the nest was also looking rather precarious, hanging by a thread and tipping to the side. So, when the mother went off to feed, we reinforced the nest with another branch – masking tape once again to the rescue.
Two days later, when the mother was off feeding, I snuck a picture and got a shot of a wide-open yellow beak. I was thrilled with the prospect that I might get to watch the tiny bird grow from hatchling to fledgling over the next few weeks. But as you might already have surmised, this was not to be. On one of my visits to the nest, I found it tipped sideways – empty. Again, my heart started pounding and again we went into action. I furiously taped leaves to support the nest, while my husband searched for the baby. He found it, but it was too late.
With nothing more to be done, I sat on the couch next to the bush. Waves of instantaneous grief washed through me. Then our hummingbird came back, hovering as usual in several spots before returning to the nest, presumably to make sure it was safe. Just a few feet away, I looked at her and simply said, “I am so sorry”. She went to the nest, perched on the side and began to make feeding motions. Realizing there was no baby, she darted among the leaves, searching, and then flew off. The depth of my sadness surprised me, filling my whole body with an ache and a sense of timeless longing.
Sitting with my hand on my heart, I made space for these feelings and sent my sadness off to the sea. The grief of other, larger, losses surfaced and these too I let drift off to the blue water. As I reflected, I kept returning to the thought of how it was only just a few minutes from when the mother bird left her little one safety nestled to the time it was all over. In those moments, the course of a tiny life ended, leaving me raw and tender. I had a deeply visceral sense of the fleeting and unpredictable nature of life. Not just for tiny little birds, but for all of us.
Our Wild and Precious Lives
“What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?” This line of poetry by Mary Oliver is often used as a motivational quote. Out of context, it encourages a more ambitious energy than I believe the poet intends. Standing alone, it evokes a “get up and go, life is too short to waste” urgency. But the poem from which it is taken, ” The Summer Day”, gently draws us into the details of Mary Oliver’s encounter with a grasshopper in a field where she has spent hours in quiet solitude. I think her question invites us to slow down, to do less rather than more. It encourages us to be present and intentional – to drop into our experience with curiously and receptivity so that we can attend to both the joys and the sorrows that come our way. This is what I was able to do with my hummingbird adventure.
I think most of us would benefit from downshifting our energy and being more purposeful with our attention, cultivating presence and wonder. For therapists, I think nurturing ourselves this way is critical. Therapists are no less susceptible to the “productivity push” than anyone else; we might be among those most vulnerable. The desire to be of service and the often-accompanying sense of ethical duty drives therapists to give and give and give more, even when depleted. This dilemma has intensified during the covid pandemic. We are in need of finding more balanced approaches in our work and in our lives.
What if, in order to truly be of service in the best ways we can – in ways that are sustainable, intentional, and have the most impact – we need to truly invest in deep, restorative nurturing for ourselves? What if the state of the world calls for us to be more – not less – attentive to our own well-being? What if dropping into connection with ourselves, with nature, and with peace and calm helps increase our capacity to show up for sadness and loss and grief and terror and uncertainty – our own and others? What if joy and delight and adventure can help us get through?
Life is short. And unpredictable. The wisdom for me in my hummingbird story is that I want to engage in life in ways that allow me to feel deep satisfaction in the joys, so that when something difficult transpires, whether in the span of five minutes or five hours or five months or five years, I have the capacity to respond well. To sit with it and be with it and allow the experience to fill the space around me. To breath and to let go and then turn my attention to the next moment of my journey. And if I want to be able to do this with my clients, I must certainly do it for myself.
Will you join me in this quest?
I leave you with this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, in Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child:
“Go back and take care of yourself. Your body needs you, your feelings need you, your perceptions need you. The wounded child in you needs you. Your suffering needs you to acknowledge it. Go home and be there for all these things. Practice mindful walking and mindful breathing. Do everything in mindfulness so you can really be there, so you can love.”
I’d love to hear anything you’d like to share, so if you’d like, please get in touch.
© 2022 Annabelle Coote
This article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not to be considered as legal, ethical, clinical, treatment planning, treatment recommendations, or any other business or clinical practice advice related to your work as a therapist.