Hummingbirds, Zen, and Being

Today a hummingbird snapped me back to reality. For the last 15 years, if I’ve had free time, my go-to move is to fill it with an activity. Call it ‘achiever fever’. Usually, it’s some sort of physical activity– running, climbing, biking, weightlifting, etc. Of course, we need to take care of our physical bodies as part of a life well-lived. But for me, exercise has often served as escapism. For a while I literally ran away from my problems by training for ultramarathons.

Lately, though, I’ve been practicing conscious exercise. Being aware of being aware that I’m in nature. That my heart is racing, my muscles are aching, it’s hot, and that the desert is alive around me.

I had the morning free, so I took my mountain bike and my dog to a popular area called the Zen trail. It’s a difficult, technical singletrack that climbs 1000 feet through sagebrush, sandstone and cacti.

I left my headphones at home because I’m learning that if we are constantly inputting media into our brains, we don’t allow inspiration to flow out. The ride up was fun, if hot. In fact, I think I was the only one crazy enough today to brave the heat- I didn’t see a soul. Inspiration flowed freely on the way up– my mind was at ease.

The top of the climb takes you to Zen Point. It’s a cliff looking out over suburbia metastasizing into the Mojave Desert. I spent a few moments in quiet contemplation when, as if acting unconsciously, I grabbed my phone and started dinking around on social media. As too often happens, I got sucked into the void and the concerns of the world engrossed me. But then, it came….

A hummingbird flew within inches of my face.

I dropped my phone, startled, and snapped back to reality. The reality of where I was at that very moment. The beautiful vista below me, the sweat on my brow. My dog panting in some shade.

I thanked the hummingbird for reminding me of my intention. Honestly, I don’t know what he was doing up there. Plant life is pretty non-existent this time of year. Maybe it was a coincidence. As I’m learning more about medicine and the depth of our misunderstandings about the world, I’m inclined to believe the hummingbird was not accidental.

On the way back to the car I came across this pitch-nose snake (Salvador hexalepis, according to my personal herpetologist, Joey Mugleston) basking in the sun. He didn’t flinch when my dog sniffed him. He was the epitome of stillness. Of being.

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