I find myself doing a lot of contemplating these days, as I anticipate the arrival of my first child. Even though work has never been more hectic, I find that I am provoked into philosophical musings more and more easily. This week I found myself particularly distracted by three little birds.
I was working on a lesson plan for an upcoming tai chi seminar when a nest of hummingbirds drew my attention. How could it not? I have never had such a clear view of a hummingbird nest, and have never had the opportunity to observe one feed its young.
This nest is not exactly conspicuous. In fact, it took several minutes for my wife to explain the exact location to me, in spite me looking directly at it and belonging to one of the few species who can see colour. No one had seen this nest before yesterday, although the young are about 3 or four days old.
The hummingbird demonstrates the power of being small and inconspicuous, an example of the yang within the yin. The yang aspect of extreme yin is also shown whenever one observes a fragile baby of any species. Human infants, through their very extreme vulnerability exert an irresistible power over adults of their own species, and often over adults of other species as well. What we often find insufferable in teens and adults will prove absolutely endearing in an infant. Also, an infant crying alone at the side of a road will elicit a very different response from the one evoked by a 45-year-old football player having a tantrum in the same place. This is how we grow less powerful by being stronger.
The hummingbird seems to exhibit some tai chi principles in reverse. For, while tai chi teaches us to cultivate slowness in order to achieve speed; it is the incredible speed of the hummingbird’s wings that allows it to sit still in mid air, and even to fly backwards.
When we say that tai chi teaches us to use slowness to achieve speed, this can have two meanings. In one respect this refers to the profound efficiency of movement that is cultivated by the slow conscious practice of tai chi routines. Slow practice teaches us to move the body without resistance. This slow movement cultivates the potential for lightning fast reflexes and the pure expression of natural instinct. But in another respect, the use of slowness to achieve speed refers to the awareness of efficient structure and position. One learns through practice to recognise the most appropriate position and alignment of body and mind, thus eliminating unnecessary or irrelevant movement. “The fastest way to get somewhere is to already be there.”
Watch the pure, effortless movement of the hummingbird, which seems to transcend space and time. The wings move faster than the eye can follow, yet the hummingbird seems constantly at ease. Ever still, ever moving, ever hidden, ever watchful; the hummingbird is quick to take action against intruders whether they be other hummingbirds at the feeder or nosey human paparazzi. (You learn that when you try to get close to a mother and her nest.)
Perhaps I am trying too hard to find tai chi lessons in a hummingbird nest. But as a tai chi teacher and student, it is both in our tradition and in my natural instinct to seek lessons in nature. And with my first child due in a few weeks, I will be taking notes as we watch these two chicks develop over the next two to three weeks.