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Moving Fast and Slow

What hummingbirds and campfires can teach us about life

Hovering in a Moment 

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had several brief encounters with hummingbirds. They are my favorite birds, so every time I see them, it’s like nature is giving me a little gift of joy. To increase my chances of encountering these flying gems, I bought special flowers that they are attracted to, such as Salvias, and planted them in the front and backyard in an attempt to draw them in on a more regular basis. So far I’ve seen six, or maybe it was the same one six times. Each time the little green hummingbird appears out of nowhere, we have a short staring contest for a moment while it hovers over some flowers, and then it flies away just as fast as it arrived. As I was writing the finishing touches on this article, he paid me a split second visit to say, “Hi,” as if he knew all along that I was writing this piece for him.

Although hummingbirds are very agile, they are also extremely focused to meet their needs for their basic survival. The hummingbirds’ movements look so effortless because you can’t see how fast its wings are actually moving; however, it is said that they are flapping their wings around 80 times per second. If the hummingbirds’ wings didn’t move at the pace that they do, then the birds wouldn’t be able to hover and be as agile. At the same time, the hummingbird’s body appears to remain in one place, just long enough to see if they found what they needed in order to thrive in nature.

  • What would life be like if we moved like a hummingbird to meet our basic needs? Agile, but yet focused.

“Happiness is like a beautiful wild animal watching from the edge of a forest. If you try to grab it, it will run away. But if you sit by your campfire and add some sticks to it, happiness will come to you, and stay.” Rick Hanson

The quote uses an example that we can all relate to and it entices the reader to make connections to their own lives. What those sticks specifically represent, are dependent on the individual(s) sitting around the campfire. To start a good campfire you need the kindling, the small twigs to carry the spark, the larger sticks to keep the flames hot, and the logs to create the long-lasting coals. There is a science to the order that the sticks are laid on the fire. If you start with the logs, they will not catch fire very quickly, unless of course, you throw on some lighter fluid. If you start with the twigs, but don’t add logs, the fire will go out almost as quickly as it started.

In Rick Hanson’s book, Resilient, he shares an overview of the three essential psychological needs based on a summary of psychological theories: safety, satisfaction, and connection. Each of these three psychological needs are comparable to sticks that we need to throw into the campfire of life. Hanson further explains that we fulfill safety by dodging harm, satisfaction by leaning towards rewards, and connection by attaching to others. Hanson brings it all together in his summary below:

“To sum it up, we have no choice about our three needs, or how the reptilian-mammalian-primate stages of evolution have shaped the ways that the brain tries to meet our needs. Our only choice is how we meet our needs: from the green zone or the red zone, with an underlying sense of peace, contentment, and love or with a sense of fear, frustration, and hurt.”

In applying Hanson’s campfire analogy about happiness to the psychological theories of basic needs, it paints a visual representation of how this unfolds in our lives. Since everyone has had a different upbringing, the degree of psychological needs under safety, satisfaction and connection vary among the individual. For one person, safety and satisfaction needs might have been freely fed to the campfire of life at a young age, but the connection logs might not have ever really caught fire long enough in order to make the glowing coals. Meeting the connection need, by finding more sticks to throw into the fire, then becomes the driving force of the quest.

For some, their campfires might have had ample amounts of kindling of connection and satisfaction, but the safety logs were not always placed on the core of the fire, yet others may have only had their fire fed with sticks of satisfaction and are motivated to find sticks of safety and connection.

All of these life experiences are not meant for us to stare back at them with regret or wishes, as if looking into a rearview mirror in a car without breaking the gaze. If we do that, we will surely crash into something directly in front of us. Instead, it can be used as a point of reference for why we do what we do and provide a starting point for understanding the motivation of different individuals within our personal worlds.

  • What sticks are you trying to add to your campfire of life?
  • Do you find yourself seeking one type of stick over another?
  • What sticks could you add today that would make your fire burn brighter?
  • If you have enough sticks in your fire, do you take time to sit back and watch it burn?

Nature is one of life’s greatest teachers but sometimes it takes longer to reveal the lesson to be learned.

Keep the fire burning, one stick at a time.

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