The Caged Hummingbird

Books + Music + Art

I had a dream a couple weeks ago. I can’t recall if it was a daydream or while I was asleep, but I still remember how vivid it was. In this dream I was sitting out on my balcony, looking out a few of the different house plants I have arranged on a small table. One of these plants is essentially a tiny palm tree, about a foot and half big. Looking at the top of this little tree, which cusps the railing of my balcony, a hummingbird appeared. It was just hovering right above the small palm. It was stunning – it was covered in bright green and pink feathers – it almost looked metallic. I was in awe of its beauty and grace, just hovering there so peacefully. So weightless and free.

A dream with that much vivid imagery and retention is not too common for me, it’s even less common when it’s something beautiful and peaceful. Maybe that’s why I remember it so clearly.

And in this dream, I remember appreciating the hummingbird for exactly what it was. Then something happened – I didn’t want that moment to end. It was such a wonderful experience; I wanted to continue and have this bird around me all the time. I wanted to capture that moment. So I thought to myself “I wonder if there is a way I can quickly catch this bird and keep it as a pet..”.

How disturbingly human that thinking is. After reflecting on the entire line of thinking, I immediately saw the irony and absurdity. “Look how free and beautiful this creature is, I should capture it so that I can be free and beautiful for me at will in my home.”. In that moment I had failed to appreciate that a fundamental element of this beauty and joy in this fictitious experience is that the hummingbird was free. Untethered by human constructs, infrastructure, or obligations. It was beautiful because it was free and because it simply existed.

It’s really tempting to try and capture moments of beauty and joy and crystallize them. These experiences are fleeting and can feel too distant in between. And trying to find ways to preserve them also helps return some control in a world where we often may feel helpless. But that temptation only limits us further, as we don’t take the lessons of those experiences to grow our wisdom and mental perspective. We end up focusing on distant moments that keep us from reaching our full potential moving forward.

Even though this was not a real experience, it had a real impact on me. It gave me a pointed example of how the focus to capture fleeting moments can destroy what we found beautiful about them. That the effort to preserve the present robs you of the memory and joy that made you want to protect that experience in the first place, and steals time from your future. It gave me a greater appreciation that when I come across these moments (in real life of course) where I recognize real beauty or something special, I’m just going to remind myself to be grateful to be a part of that experience and to be present. That’ll do more than any picture or memento ever could.

See you tomorrow.
Nick

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