This week’s Animal Note we’re going to be discussing the PHENOMENAL and super short story The Flight of the Hummingbird. This parable has origins among the Quechan people of South America and the Haida of the North Pacific. But the book we will review is interpreted by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas with commentary by Wangari Maathai and His Holiness the Dalia Lama.
If you would like to watch my note, it’s on YouTube Here
This book is definitely a MUST HAVE book for any conservationist, environmentalist, or anyone who wants to make a difference in this world. The story and commentary themselves are only 50 pages long, but the ideas presented could fill encyclopedias, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy them as much as I have, so let’s dive right in.
- I’m Doing What I Can
- Inconsequential actions still make a difference
- Imagine what we can do together
- Do the easy small stuff so we don’t have to worry about the insurmountable hard stuff
- It is not the environment that needs fixing…
Since the story is so short, I’m going to start us off by reading it in its entirety-
Here is the story of the great forest that caught on fire.
The terrible fire raged and burned. All the animals were afraid and fled from their homes. The elephant and the tiger, the beaver and the bear all ran, and above them the birds flew in a panic.
They huddled at the edge of the forest and watched. All the creatures gathered, except one.
Only Dukdukdiya, the little hummingbird, would not abandon the forest. Dukdukdiya flew quickly to the stream. She picked up a single drop of water in her beak.
Dukdukdiya flew back and dropped the water on the fire.
Again she flew to the stream and brought back another drop, and so she continued-back and forth, back and forth. The other animals watched the hummingbird’s tiny body fly against the enormous fire, and they were frightened. They called out to her, warning Dukdukdiya of the dangers of the smoke and the heat.
“What can I do?” sobbed the rabbit. “this fire is much too hot.”
“There is too much smoke!” howled the wolf.
“My wings will burn! My beak is too small”, cried the owl.
But the hummingbird persisted. She flew to and fro, picking up more water and dropping it, bead by bead, onto the burning forest.
Finally, the big bear said, “Little Dukdukdiya, what are you doing?”
Without stopping, Dukdukdiya looked down at all her friends. She said, “I am doing what I can.”
I am Doing What I Can
Okay, so this short story is one gigantic big idea, but it’s the last 6 words I want to focus on. I actually get emotional whenever I read this tale, because it truly embodies EVERYTHING I teach with ZooFit.
Often people come to me with what they feel are enormous insurmountable obstacles, or stress because they don’t feel what they are doing matters- both in fitness and in conservation.
ZooFit is about sustainability. Not just what’s sustainable for the earth, but what’s sustainable for OURSELVES. We can’t do everything, we can only do what we can do.
I ask my clients and participants this simple question- at the end of the day, did you do your utmost best? Not pushing yourself so far past your limits you can’t maintain the momentum, but did you do everything you could to meet your goals, to eat right, to do your part for conservation, to get a little better? If the answer is yes, then celebrate.
Not everyone can do everything. If your best is simply refusing a plastic straw when you go out to eat, then I salute you and sincerely thank you for doing your part. If your best is installing solar power panels for your entire community, then that’s fantastic. Keep up that amazing work.
But it’s important that we look at our actions and determine if we are doing WHAT WE CAN. Not what our neighbors are doing, not what big corporations or the government, or the rich and famous- are we doing OUR PART, doing the best WE can do? That is the most important part.
This is the most important part because so often we look at issues surrounding us- the Australian Bush Fires, the coronavirus, the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, the decimation of the Great Barrier Reef. The Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.
We see these huge ordeals we have to face and it feels overwhelming. And if you try to take that on yourself, it IS overwhelming. But the thing is, we don’t have to take those on, not the way you are thinking.
Byron Katie is an author with dozens of self-improvement books demonstrating how to handle situations just like these. In her book Loving What Is she shows us how to look at situations and determine how much worry and anxiety to give over to them by how much control we have over it.
Her point is made in regards to how the Hummingbird deals with crisis- “You can’t stop a big corporation from destroying the rainforest, but you CAN stop buying their products.”
You didn’t start the Australian Bush Fires, and you may not have the ability to stop them burning, but what do you have control over? We can change our behavior where we live to help other regions often affected by wildfires. Climate change and deforestation are two culprits which lead to out of control fires. Yeah, we didn’t start the fire, but our actions can have an effect on how bad they can get. Focusing on what we DO have control over will help us do our part each and every day- doing what we can to take care of ourselves, our loved ones, and ultimately, the world.
Inconsequential Actions Still Make a Difference
His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote an afterward for the book called Universal Responsibility. In his own words he said:
“It is up to us as individuals to do what we can, however little that may be. Just because switching off the light when leaving the room seems inconsequential, it doesn’t mean we should not do it.”
It reminds me of another powerful parable often shared of the Star Thrower:
One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.
Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”.
The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”
The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!”
Now, this is powerful, and so right on. Is the Hummingbird going to put out a terrible raging forest fire one drop at a time? Her efforts may seem inconsequential. But her effect on the fire isn’t the point. It really isn’t the point at all. She is a shining radiant exemplar, a hero who is showing us all what we can do. We can drop one droplet of water, one at a time, doing our part.
Each drop of water by themselves isn’t going to make or break the goal, challenge, or issue. But added together, they make a significant contribution towards the solution.
So, what is YOUR drop of water? Maybe it’s eliminating straws. Maybe it’s walking to the store instead of driving. It could be creating a bright line at the grocery store to not buy any products packaged in plastic. What’s the ONE thing you are doing that on its own may not make a difference, but we know it’s the right thing to do?
Just because eliminating one plastic straw from being thrown away won’t save the ocean doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do.
This isn’t about ONE THING. It’s about the mentality and the motivation to do our part. If I can do without a straw today, maybe I can do without the plastic bag tomorrow. Or maybe I can do without a fast food lunch and bring my own meal from home.
Inconsequential things all add up. And they keep us motivated to keep dropping water on the fire.
And they also inspire others…
Which is Big Idea #3-
Imagine What We Can Do Together
As Michael tells us after his wonderful rendition of the Flight of the Hummingbird,
“When we put away the notion that greatness is essential to success, then we expand into our full capacity. The hummingbird’s faith in the power of the small, and in herself, is illustrated by her heroic contribution- the act of simply doing what she can, alone.
Imagine that many, most, or even all of the other animals also did what they could. They might never know whether the problem was solved by their individual efforts, but their contribution would increase the likelihood that many beads of water would overcome the fire.”
Imagine how impactful it would be if “I am doing what I can” was not the end of the story, but just the middle. Imagine Dukdukdiya inspiring the entire community to each grab their own beads of water and the forest animals put out the fire, together.
All because the hummingbird started by doing what she could.
Yeah, maybe our individual efforts won’t make a difference. But when we combine them with all the other small individual actions, we can literally change the world, and fix most of these issues that we are facing today.
During one of my annual visits to see my family in South Carolina, my mother and I were eating lunch at a popular café. I was using my reusable bamboo utensils instead of the plastic forks provided by the café. It’s just something I’m used to, but I realized it must have seemed extraordinary to some of the other patrons, because a couple people pointed at us and mimicked eating as they walked by.
I was proud of that moment. Does using my own utensils at restaurants make a HUGE difference? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t eat out that often. But it’s possible when I DO use my own utensils, I am inspiring someone ELSE to do the same. And THAT DOES make a huge difference.
And doing these things together doesn’t just make a huge difference, it makes a LASTING difference. It’s so much easier to START taking care of ourselves, our community, and our planet now, so it becomes a habit. Doing these small things and inspiring others to do their share sparks a movement where conservation and healthy habits are easy. That way, it STAYS an easy habit, and we don’t have to scramble to adjust to huge necessary changes in our lives. Simply by doing what we can now.
Which is basically the gist of our next Big Idea-
Do the Small Stuff (so we can avoid the harder insurmountable problems later)
His Holiness the Dalai Lama also states in his commentary “If people BEGIN to act with genuine compassion for everyone, we can still protect each other and the natural environment. This is much easier than having to adapt to the severe and incomprehensible environmental conditions projected for the future.”
This does sort of remind me of me and my husband’s situation. A couple of years ago, Chris was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. It shook us for a little while, as we don’t fully understand HOW he got this disease, but one thing we are eternally grateful for is our healthy lifestyle we had already installed years before. Because of our little actions we took together, adjusting to a new way of taking care of ourselves (because we are in this together) was way easier than any doctor imagined. Instead of monstrous changes in our eating habits and workout program, we just made tiny tweaks, and were able to keep Chris off dialysis until he found a donor and had a kidney transplant. And after the transplant, we needed to make new adjustments, which were also easier because they weren’t ginormous lifestyle changes.
This is also the main idea behind Brian Johnson’s Optimize Program. He often talks about Micro-wins, the small wins which compound to create a huge victory in our health, productivity, self-improvement, and, for me and ZooFit, making a bigger difference in our conservation efforts.
By “doing what we can” we have a profound effect on the future. Creating healthy habits in the present makes doing these tasks and actions easy down the road. So, if you practice bringing your own water bottle or coffee mug everywhere you go, it is second nature and you don’t have to think about what you are going to do if you are thirsty- you grab your water bottle, or use your mug to get a drink.
So, once again, what’s your drop of water you can easily start with today? How will it help build a river in the future by making small incremental gains that add up?
And our final Big Idea for this Note is quite simple-
It is Not the ENVIRONMENT Which Needs Fixing.
This final quote from the Dalai Lama is probably the most enlightening.
“We need to teach people that the environment has a direct bearing on our own benefit, teach them to understand the need for environmental protection, and how conservation directly aids our survival. The environment does not need fixing. It is our behavior in relation to it that needs to change.”
Insert mouth dropping open.
It’s not the ENVIRONMENT. It’s US.
It’s sort of a Zen way to put it. There is nothing actually wrong with the environment that can’t be solved simply by changing our own actions.
And I know my immediate reaction is to try to think of instances where the ENVIRONMENT needs fixing. Coral bleaching? It’s definitely an indication that our world is on a tipping point, but it’s not us fixing the coral reefs that will help. The coral reefs will heal themselves when our BEHAVIOR changes to better protect it.
This goes on and on. Even in the story, the Hummingbird isn’t out to FIX the forest. She’s only focused on HER actions and HER behavior, doing what she can to be a part of the solution.
The big topic on the entire world’s mind right now is the coronavirus. Right now, we don’t have a vaccine or a cure. So there is no FIXING the coronavirus, as of yet. The only thing we can do to protect ourselves is changing OUR behavior- social distancing, washing our hands, covering our coughs. It’s not the environment, it’s our behavior in relation to the environment.
Honestly, my mind is blown.
So, what behavior can we change to make a difference in the world? Can we start doing that today? And showing others how to better take care of ourselves by taking care of the planet?
Let’s be radiant exemplars in doing what we can, inspiring others to be Hummingbirds for everything in our lives.
Alright that just about sums up my Animal Note from this amazing little book. Let’s end with a couple of Quotes:
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
Abraham Maslow stated, “What a man can be, he must be.”
Michelle Benjamin, one of the collaborators in this book says: “It is not necessarily the largest, most courageous, or loudest animal that can do the most good or have the greatest influence. Rather, those who are not afraid to act, and who are aware of what is at stake, can make the biggest difference.”
And finally, Margaret Mead stated, “Never doubt that a SMALL group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
That’s about it for Flight of the Hummingbird by Michael Nicoll Yahgulananaas with Wangari Maathai and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. If this note interested you, you can pick up a copy from Amazon, here’s the link: Flight of the Hummingbird
Such a powerful book. Which big idea stuck out to you the most? Let me know, and let’s start rocking our Hummingbird mentality today.